by Sue Ek
In 1978, at a WOOMB conference in Melbourne, Australia, Dr. John Billings asked Dr. Hanna Klaus to develop something for the young people because “no one was doing anything with them.”
Dr. Klaus had just moved to Washington, D.C., and was the Associate Professor of Ob/Gyn at George Washington University Medical Center and director of Ob/Gyn education at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. As she tells the story, “In a series of providential events, Kay Ek’s sister, Mary Thormann, Ph.D., a professor of early childhood education at Marymount College (now university) in Arlington, VA, was delivering Meals on Wheels with Eunice Kennedy Shriver for their parish, Our Lady of Victory, in Washington, D.C. Dr. Thormann spoke to her of my interest in teaching fertility awareness to teens. At the time, Mrs. Shriver was the Executive Vice President of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation for the Prevention of Mental Retardation. She became interested as premature babies were at higher risk for mental retardation, and teen mothers often delivered prematurely. I met with Mrs. Shriver, and eventually, the Foundation funded our initial research on what became the Teen STAR (Sexuality Teaching in the Context of Adult Responsibility) program.”
Early on, the program found a strong foothold in Europe. However, as Dr. Klaus explains, “Teens are open to learning about sexuality and fertility the world over.”
It’s just not an easy reach because of the limitations that come from varying factors. She cited one problem of not having enough people to promote the program. There are also disturbing setbacks that come from the gate-keepers. Their roadblocks run from objecting that the curriculum is not academic enough to fears suggesting that, when teens track their fertility, they will take advantage of using the infertile time for promiscuous activity. The list goes on.
The main challenge, as Dr. Klaus sees it, is, that, “The wider culture encourages teens to engage in intercourse ‘as soon as they are ready as long as they don’t get pregnant.’ All of the professional societies in the United States, and many internationally, are pushing this.” She added, “They seem oblivious to the tripling of sexually transmitted infections and depression in the 25 and under [age] group.”
She added, “Puberty is the time when interest in coming to terms with one’s sexuality and fertility is at its peak. Teaching teens at this time is the logical approach to fertility acceptance in one’s life. Pre-marriage is too late for too many as sexual activity and contraception have begun much earlier.” She encourages all Billings teachers to learn Teen STAR and promote it “as a primary prevention.”
As Dr. Klaus puts it, “The essence of the Teen STAR program is experiential learning of fertility signs. It is not primarily a biology course.”
So, what is involved to become a Teen STAR presenter? “Teachers are trained to deliver middle school, high school, or college level programs. Women teach the girls> Men, the boys.” The training of a Teen STAR teacher (or “Monitor” in Latin America and Spain) starts with a 35-hour teacher training workshop. A mentored practicum follows that. New teachers are supported by experienced teachers either in-person, by phone, or email, depending on the location. Then, after two years of teaching, teachers become eligible to become trainers.
Looking to the future, she says, “Thankfully, the International Teen STAR Association is well-established and led by the next generation. Materials are constantly updated to keep up with new knowledge while keeping the essence of experiential learning maintained.”
The near future will see BOMA-USA and Teen STAR sharing a conference in August in Washington, D.C. at The Catholic University of America. Teen STAR will begin meeting on Thursday, August 6, and will continue on Friday, August 7. BOMA will host its one-day Billings-specific topics on Friday, August 7. Then, the two groups will share general sessions on Saturday, August 8.
We are looking forward to announcing our exciting topics and speakers soon on our website.
BOMA-USA provides education and training for The Billings Ovulation Method® which is a natural method of fertility management that teaches you to recognize the body's natural signs of fertility.