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Program To Delay Sex Brings Students Many Other Benefits

January 21, 2007
By SUSAN CAMPBELL, Courant Staff Writer

Something interesting happens to Bulkeley High School students in their Postponing Sexual Involvement program.

Several somethings, in fact. Though they come from neighborhoods with historically high teen birth rates, PSI students postpone parenthood. They graduate from high school. They go on to college. They often come back to volunteer.

PSI students go to neighborhood schools and tell fifth-graders that it's all right to think, talk or have feelings about sex, but they shouldn't have sex until they're older.

They tell them they're all going to go to college.

They tell the children that parenthood interrupts education and stymies opportunities.

Information a child can't or won't accept from a parent or teacher they may accept from a slightly older peer. That's the purpose of the program: reducing teen pregnancy. What happens beyond that is successful mentoring - of the fifth-graders and of the PSI students as well.

The program is a product of Breaking the Cycle, a compendium of groups dedicated to reducing teen pregnancy in the capital city.

Gretchen Levitz-Kimball, who coordinates Bulkeley's program through Hartford Hospital's Women's Health Services, is something of a den mother.

She takes students on college tours, holds tea parties and hosts a Thanksgiving dinner that is often the first of its kind for immigrant students.

When the program began in 1996, the teen birth rate in Hartford was "intolerably high," she said.

Teen births have dropped since then, according to Laura Stone, spokeswoman for Breaking the Cycle, from 521 in '96 to 428 in 2004, the last year for which figures are available. PSI, which is replicated in other city schools, is part of that drop, she says.

High school students join to overcome shyness. Some join to work on their English. Begaeta Nukic, who is from Bosnia, is a senior interested in teaching.

Through her involvement in the program, she saw her first live play, picked apples, took up golf and had her first birthday cake.

Aneela Kazmi, who graduated in 2002, comes from a traditional Pakistani family. She persuaded her parents to let her join by emphasizing the health aspects of the club. She attended her prom. Levitz took her to the beach - she had never been - to see the ocean.

"PSI became my excuse to do everything," said Kazmi. "Sometimes it's hard to manage two cultures, but anything to do with Gretchen was fine with my dad." All four Kazmi children have been in the program.

Fludiona Naka, a senior, moved to Hartford with her widowed mother and sisters from Albania. Naka wants to study medicine and has applied to eight colleges.

When she joined PSI in her sophomore year, Naka worried that her accent would be a hindrance, but none of the fifth-graders she spoke with ever mentioned it.

She acknowledges that sexual involvement is not openly discussed in her native country, but her mother was persuaded to let her and her sisters join when the girls showed her the high teen birth rates in Hartford.

"It's different from Albania," Naka told her mother. "We have to take different steps to solve this problem."

On a recent visit to fifth-grade teacher Julio Concepcion's class at M.D. Fox School, the children cheer for Alex Colon, here on a return visit.

A poster reminds pupils that their class will enter college in 2014. Colon tells the class he is going to attend Central Connecticut State, and that he remembers listening to PSI students when he was in fifth grade.

He once thought he wanted to be a nurse. Now, he wants to teach fifth grade. The students cheer.

When are you coming back? one boy asks. Colon reminds him that he lives in Hartford. He's in the neighborhood. He can be seen out and about.

And he will be there for them.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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