Heritage Keepers Life Skills Education

OVERVIEW

Heritage Keepers is a multiyear, multi-component abstinence education program. The program includes an abstinence curriculum, a community education program, and a life skills education curriculum. A random assignment study compared students assigned to take part in all aspects of the program with students assigned not to receive the life skills education curriculum. Thus, under evaluation was the added impact of the life skills education curriculum to the other aspects of the program. At the four-year follow-up, no significant differences were found between students assigned to receive the life skills education curriculum and students assigned not to receive this curriculum on measures of abstinence rate, age of sexual onset, number of sexual partners, pregnancy rate, STD acquisition, birth control use, or condom use.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: 6th-12th grade students

Heritage Keepers is a multi-year abstinence education program, funded by Title V, Section 510 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. All such programs have as their exclusive purpose "teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity." Heritage Keepers promotes sexual abstinence until marriage though three main components: a mandatory core abstinence education curriculum, a community education program, and a voluntary life skills education curriculum.

The abstinence education component includes 7.5 hours of curriculum to be delivered each year from 6th grade through 12th grade. This curriculum focuses on increasing awareness of pregnancy and STD risks and on empowering students to abstain from sexual activity. Classes are delivered by Heritage Community Services staff to single-sex groups of 10-20 students.

The community education program includes education for parents, religious leaders, and media personnel. Parents are encouraged to form networks to discourage risky behaviors and support abstinence until marriage. Religious leaders are provided with education materials to distribute throughout their community. Media personnel are encouraged to promote abstinence among students and the public.

The life skills education component is a multi-year, character-based program intended to enhance life skills believed to support abstinence. Participating students are taught to develop personal responsibility and character. The program seeks to create a positive peer culture within the school and, over time, change the overall school and peer culture to be more supportive of abstinence.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

Clark, M. A., Trenholm, C., Devaney, B., Wheeler, J., & Quay, L. (2007). Impacts of the Heritage Keepers Life Skills Education Component. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Evaluated population: A total of 604 students from Edgefield, South Carolina served as the study sample for this investigation. Subjects were recruited in three cohorts: a group of students who were in 6th grade in 2001, a group of students who were in 6th grade in 2003, and a group of students who were in 9th grade in 2001. 59% of subjects were black, 37% were white, and 5% were Hispanic. 50% of subjects had parents who were married.

Approach: Students were randomly assigned to the treatment group or the control group. In Edgefield, the Heritage Keepers abstinence education curriculum is mandatory for all students in middle school and high school. Thus, all students received the Heritage Keepers abstinence education curriculum and the entire Edgefield community was exposed to the Heritage Keepers community education program. Only students assigned to the treatment group were given the opportunity to participate in the Heritage Keepers life skills education program, however.

Middle school treatment students could attend weekly life skills meetings after school, and high school treatment students could attend weekly lunchtime meetings. Meetings generally lasted at least 45 minutes. Meeting attendance was strictly voluntary, though the majority of treatment students (>90%) attended at least one meeting. 68% of middle school students from the 2001 treatment cohort attended over 20 meetings; 58% of middle school students from the 2003 treatment cohort attended over 20 meetings; and 50% of high school students from the 2001 treatment cohort attended over 20 meetings.

The life skills education curriculum underwent substantive modifications in 2003 to strengthen the curriculum. Treatment students from the 2003 middle school cohort received the revised curriculum for the entirety of their participation in the study; however, this was not the case for treatment students from the 2001 cohorts.

All students completed baseline surveys at entry into the study. Follow-up surveys were completed between the spring and fall of 2005. (This constituted two-year follow-up data for students from the 2003 cohort and four-year follow-up data for students in the 2001 cohorts. Behavior data for the 2003 cohort was not analyzed.)

Results: The Heritage Keepers life skills education program had no impact on students' sexual behaviors. At the 2005 follow-up, students assigned to the treatment group were no more likely to be abstinent than were students assigned to the control group. Further, treatment students were no more likely to have abstained over the past year. Life skills education students were significantly less supportive of teen sex than were control students, though. They were also significantly more likely than control students to report intent to remain abstinent until marriage and intent to abstain through high school, but were not significantly more likely to intend to remain abstinent during their teenage years.

Compared with control students, life skills education students were not significantly less likely to have had multiple sexual partners and they did not report having waited significantly longer to start having sex. They did not report using condoms any more frequently and were marginally less likely to use birth control. Treatment students were just as likely as control students to have acquired an STD and treatment females were just as likely as control females to have become pregnant. Treatment females were significantly more likely than control females to have had a baby.

The program had no impact on other risk behaviors. Students assigned to the life skills education program and students assigned to the control group were equally likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use marijuana.

The life skills education program did not lead to greater knowledge of the risks and consequences associated with STDs, nor did it lead to greater understanding of the preventative power of condoms. Life skills education students were better able to recognize the names of STDs, however.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Curriculum materials available for purchase at:

http://www.heritageservices.org/curriculum/heritage-keepers-life-skills-education/

References:

Clark, M. A., Trenholm, C., Devaney, B., Wheeler, J., & Quay, L. (2007). Impacts of the Heritage Keepers Life Skills Education Component. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

KEYWORDS: Adolescents, Youth, Children, School-Based, Middle School, High School, Teen Pregnancy, Alcohol Use, Condom Use and Contraception, Marijuana/Illicit/Prescription Drugs, Sexual Activity, Social Skills/Life Skills, STD/HIV/AIDS, Tobacco Use

Program information last updated on 9/11/08.