Local teens will have a resource to learn how to foster healthy relationships and make good decisions through Making Proud Choices, a new afterschool program through Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center that begins on Jan. 1.

“The program focuses on the teenager’s personal goals and dreams,” said Miyoshi Lee, Seekhaven’s Youth Prevention Coordinator. “It builds on or corrects the beliefs and attitudes that they already have about sex.”

The curriculum is designed to teach youth ages 13 to 17 about safe-sex practices and how to build healthy relationships. Funded by the Utah Department of Health, the program is already recognized nationwide for preventing pregnancy and health problems in teens, while empowering young adults in their decision-making.

“It's in the name of the program—enabling students to make proud choices,” Seekhaven Deputy Executive Director Luke Wojciechowski said. “We're hoping to provide the students the knowledge, confidence and skills so that when a choice does come up, they feel comfortable that the choice they're making is their own choice, and that they're not feeling pressured by peer pressure, social expectations, or whatever it might be.”

Seekhaven’s goal is to provide teens and parents with several options to educate their children about sex and making good decisions, so that “if they don’t feel that the curriculum currently being presented in the school district is adequate, then we can give them some extra options,” Wojciechowski said.

There have been concerns in both the Grand County and San Juan County school districts about sexual assault. In August, the San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws sounded the alarm about a “developing rape culture” in the county’s schools. Seekhaven announced that their Seeking Safety support group would be offered in San Juan County in September, led by a newly hired sexual assault advocate.

“These are issues permeating throughout our school districts, whether they’re obvious or bubbling underneath the surface,” Wojciechowski said.

He hopes that MPC can inform students about the importance of sexual consent, clear communication and healthy relationships.

The Making Proud Choices program debuting in January has eight different modules to provide adolescents with the “knowledge, competence, and skills that are necessary to reduce their risk of STDs, HIV and pregnancy, by abstaining from sex and using condoms if they choose to have sex,” said Lee.

It is designed to be taught in small groups so that students can benefit from the program’s interactive learning experiences, such as learning how to use condoms and role-playing situations that can lead to good or bad decisions.

Seekhaven is offering Making Proud Choices with the help of a grant from the Utah Department of Health designed to help prevent teenage pregnancy. The program is one of a few evidence-based health curricula that have already been pre-approved by the state, but Seekhaven chose the program because “it addresses important subjects the most directly and without much extra fluff,” said Wojciechowski.

Seekhaven was founded in Moab in 1990 and offers free and confidential client advocacy, emergency shelter and transition assistance services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The nonprofit seeks to provide a safe space for survivors — regardless of gender or age — to heal and rebuild.

Seekhaven will administer the program using up-to-date social distancing guidelines and will utilize online learning. Students in need of technology to participate in the program can use a tablet provided by Seekhaven, and Making Proud Choices will be free for any student who wishes to participate.

Wojciechowski hopes that Making Proud Choices will become an ongoing program, emphasizing the flexibility of the curriculum to meet the needs of students. The eight modules can be taught in many different time frames and methods — an asset, especially considering that the program must be administered virtually due to COVID-19.

“At the end of the day, we're not so much concerned about the form that it takes, just the fact that the material gets to the kids who need it,” said Wojciechowski.

Seekhaven is also offering another curriculum called Families Talking Together, an intervention program administered to parents that is designed to prevent and reduce sexual risk among Latinx and Black teenagers. Families Talking Together aims to improve parent-child relationships.

“It’s a training about how to have a conversation with your kid about sex,” Wojciechowski said. “We hope it can educate parents about the influence they have over their kids’ behaviors, and that they will ultimately understand that it’s not just ‘The Talk,’ but a series of talks.”

Lee and Wojciechowski hope that these new programs can bring parents into the discussion about what their children learn about sex.

“Part of the impetus for putting forth a program like this was a recognition that there really isn’t anything like this in the community,” Wojciechowski said. “At the end of the day, we believe that the parents kind of have a say in determining what they want their kids to be exposed to.”

“At Seekhaven, although we’re always committed to providing supportive services to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, we also recognize the importance of preventing these things from happening in the first place,” Lee said. “That’s why we administer these curriculums — to address the social norms that perpetuate different types of violence in our communities.”

Lee highlighted her focus on teaching students how to set healthy boundaries in their personal lives, whether they be “emotional, physical or digital.”

“The number one main thing is that we want to give these kids the help and support that they need,” she said.