El Camino: Helping Teens Set Life Goals and Promote Sexual Health

Fact SheetSexual & Reproductive HealthApr 5 2022

This fact sheet has been updated to reflect findings from our evaluation of El Camino from 2020 to 2023. It originally featured findings from a pilot evaluation from 2015 to 2018.

El Camino is a research-based goal-setting sexual health promotion program developed by Child Trends based on the principles of Positive Youth Development. El Camino promotes adolescent sexual health by encouraging youth to set goals, make informed sexual and reproductive health choices that align with those goals, and learn to communicate their sexual health limits. The program helps teens develop their own camino, or road, to pursue goals they identify for themselves.

This fact sheet describes the El Camino curriculum and pre- and post-test results from an evaluation of the program at 11 high schools in Montgomery County, MD from 2020 to 2023. El Camino serves high school-aged, English- or Spanish-speaking Latino adolescents who are male, female, or nonbinary—as well as other adolescents from historically excluded neighborhoods in the United States—and has been implemented with a wide range of students ages 13 to 20.

About the El Camino Curriculum

The El Camino curriculum is developmentally appropriate, active, engaging, and youth-focused. It incorporates several unique features that distinguish it from other evidence-based/evidence-informed curricula designed to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs. In particular, El Camino’s lessons and activities:

  • Are anchored in sexual health promotion and goal setting
  • Incorporate a goal achievement model throughout the curriculum
  • Are designed with a focus on the needs of Latino youth
  • Focus on the most effective forms of contraception, including long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)

The El Camino curriculum contains eleven 45-minute lessons and is divided into three sections, or arcs. The three arcs focus on goal setting, sexual and reproductive health, and healthy relationships. Each lesson is briefly summarized in the table at the end of this fact sheet.

Arc 1, Goal Setting (lessons 1–4), uses the imagery of a road (El Camino) to connect adolescents’ long-term goals with specific steps they can take to achieve those goals. Students themselves—without input from adults in their lives—set their goals and determine the steps they need to take to achieve those goals. Participating students think through the benefits of completing their education.

Arc 2, Sexual and Reproductive Health (lessons 5–8), works to build young people’s knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behaviors regarding reproductive biology, and to teach them effective methods of contraception—all necessary steps for youth to make informed decisions on ways to protect and reach their goals.

Arc 3, Healthy Relationships (lessons 9–11), aims to help youth develop assertive communication skills to protect their progress toward their goals, accurately and effectively communicate their limits with partners, and enjoy healthy relationships.

El Camino Activities

El Camino incorporates a variety of activities to engage students. These activities are not designed to tell students what to do or think; instead, they encourage students to think for themselves about important issues like relationships, school, and their futures. In El Camino, students engage in activities that include:

  • Reading stories/novelas throughout the curriculum that feature teen characters with whom they share key characteristics
  • “Voting with your feet”—the activity of physically moving around a room to show agreement or disagreement with a statement or idea
  • Role-playing with other students using scenarios about similar teenagers
  • Participating in group discussions with teachers to discuss their thoughts and get answers to their questions
  • Goal mapping—having participants write a personal goal they want to achieve by age 25 on a map and thinking about the steps necessary to reach that goal
  • Practicing skills by implementing concepts learned (for example, practicing assertive communication with partners or proper condom use)

Evaluation Findings

Child Trends received a grant from the HHS Office of Population Affairs in 2020 to implement and rigorously evaluate El Camino in high schools in Montgomery County, MD, with high Latino populations. Child Trends partnered with Identity to implement El Camino—during lunch periods, elective classes, or after school—at 11 high schools across the 2020–2023 school years. Researchers from the University of Maryland evaluated El Camino’s effectiveness: Classes at each school were randomly selected to receive either El Camino or an alternative life skills program.

Demographics and Reach

A total of 746 students participated in the El Camino evaluation (396 in El Camino and 350 in an alternative program). The majority of classes were taught in Spanish. The demographics and background of students participating in the evaluation are shown in the figure below.

Demographics and background of students participating in the evaluation

Demographics and background of students participating in the evaluation

Evaluation outcomes

Students completed surveys before and after their participation in El Camino or an alternative life skills program. Compared to students in the alternative program, El Camino students had greater improvements in knowledge, self-efficacy, intentions, and attitudes from pre-test to post-test. The figures below show the average responses of El Camino students at pre-test and post-test.

Note: Findings based on 289 students who received El Camino and completed both the baseline and post-test surveys. For all findings shown here, improvements from pre-test to post-test were significantly higher for the El Camino group than the control group based on multivariate impact analyses.

Click here to download a summary of El Camino curriculum lessons


For more information, please contact elcamino@childtrends.org.

The El Camino curriculum and training are available through Healthy Teen Network https://www.healthyteennetwork.org/resources/el-camino/

We would like to thank The JPB Foundation for their generous support in funding the curriculum development and field testing, as well as the Office of Population Affairs for funding updates to the curriculum and the rigorous evaluation.

This publication was made possible by Grant Number TP2AH000077 from the HHS Office of Population Affairs. Contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Health and Human Services or the Office of Population Affairs.