Author Information

Victoria Harkins


In 2008, the teen birth rate for Lowell, Massachusetts was 142.3% higher than the teen birth rate for all of Massachusetts. The State of Massachusetts does not mandate sexual education or education about sexually transmitted disease (STD) and human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immunodeficiency virus (HIV/AIDS), but instead provides curriculum recommendations. This study examines the health and sexual education curricula from nine public high schools in Greater Lowell, comparing their content to the recommendations of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework. Data were collected using two methods: a survey of health educators, and a content analysis of 9th-12th grade health curricula. The results show that 78% of the reviewed curricula discuss abstinence and 100% discuss STDs and HIV, yet 67% of educators surveyed report that abstinence and contraceptives receive equal emphasis in their respective school’s sexual education program. One hundred percent of the curricula discussed pregnancy prevention, though only 56% discussed consequences of teen parenting. Finally, only 62% of educators reported that their respective school’s health curriculum meets students’ needs. These findings foster greater awareness of the current status of health and sexual education curricula in Greater Lowell, and offer insight into the growing issues that these communities face with teen pregnancy, STD and STI rates, and the overall sexual health of teens.

Note on the Author

Victoria Harkins is a senior majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Education and a minor in Psychology. Her research was conducted with funding from a 2011 Adrian Tinsley Program Summer Research Grant under the mentorship of Dr. Jodi Cohen of the Sociology Department. She presented her work at the 2012 National Conference on Undergraduate Education.

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