My introduction to the OWL (Our Whole Lives) Program was in 1999 when my older son Mike took the course at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I was blown away by the program presentation and the tools it provided for my son. So I was honored when our DLRE, Robin Pugh, asked me if I would like to teach OWL here at UUCWC. I attended the weekend long seminar that certified me and Noelle Kahney to teach 7th to 9th grade youth. We joined veteran teachers, Scott Drew and Scott Umlauf, and have had the pleasure of working with our students since September.
OWL is based on the concept that, “Sexuality encompasses nearly every aspect of our being, from attitudes and values to feelings and experiences. It is influenced by the individual, family, culture, religion/spirituality, laws, professions, institutions, science and politics.” This is the basis of the Circles of Sexuality chart we use in class. The students are encouraged to join the concepts from that Circle with the Unitarian Universalist covenant.
Topics include: Values, The Language of Sexuality, Anatomy and Physiology, Body Image, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Sexual Orientation and Sexuality and Disability. One of the units that I like best is on Relationships, which discusses healthy relationships and relationship skills. The kids are introduced to contemporary issues (most of them could probably teach us this aspect!), including Social Media and the Internet. The lesson on Bullying and Bystander Responsibilities allowed the kids to share their very empathetic grasp of this topic. Our students are taught and discuss responsible sexual behavior, which redefines abstinence, and stresses consent education. They are shown a narrated video that exposes them to healthy sexual expression. This year there will be a session that addresses the topic of pornography. One of the Units addresses sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, parenting and teen parenting, along with unintended pregnancy options and contraception and safer sex. And finally, sexual decision making, communicating with a sexual partner and self-care are covered.
Working with these teens has been a real joy and I look forward to the weeks I am teaching. They are intelligent, informed, funny and engaged. Sometimes the material can be embarrassing for them, but they hang in there and support each other. I would highly recommend the OWL training and working with our youth as a wonderful way to be involved at UUCWC.
Clare Doyle, OWL Teacher