ACRJ Youth Researchers: Sex Education in OUSD

Monday, March 12, 2012

by Laura Harris, guest author, UC Berkeley Grad. student

ACRJ’s CORE group of youth leaders is embarking on an exciting project: having learned about sexual education justice and discussed issues of sex and gender amongst themselves, they are now researching the current state of sex education in Oakland high schools. The group has created a survey that asks where high school students are currently getting information about sex, what topics their schools are teaching, and – perhaps most important – what topics students feel should be covered, but are absent from the curriculum. The results will inform ACRJ’s strategies, and will be presented to the Oakland Unified School District.

The youth are leading the entire process, and grappling with tough questions of participatory action research along the way. Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is more than just research: it’s an information gathering process that is explicitly action-oriented. It extends beyond data analysis and interpretation to include taking action based on the results. And the entire process is led by members of the community where the research and action happen – in this case, members of ACRJ's CORE youth group themselves. The framework of YPAR is empowerment: empowerment of a group or community to identify an issue, to figure out ways to get more information about it, and to ultimately address the issue. This framework is squarely in line with ACRJ’s approach to sexual education justice and youth leadership.

At their last group meeting, the youth discussed sample size and survey considerations. The seemingly simple question of “what do Oakland high school students think about the sex education at their schools” becomes complex when operationalizing measurement into a survey. The group discussed how to collect surveys from a relatively representative population. If OUSD is like a big bowl of pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup), how could they make sure that their results really give a sense of the whole soup, not just the noodles, or the broth, or a big mouthful of sriracha sauce. They looked at demographic statistics from Oakland high schools such as race and income level, and thought about what groups might be important to target. They then volunteered to present the survey to different student groups and classes, based on their existing connections – what a wealth of relationships in one room!

This coming week in CORE group they’ll be finalizing the survey based on feedback from pre-tests. They will then start to give the survey to youth groups and classes in Oakland, along with a presentation on comprehensive sex education that they have designed! Check back for more updates on this exciting process.