Are you SMART?

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Genevieve Martínez García

The first step for designing an evaluation plan is to get a comprehensive understanding of what the program is trying to achieve and with whom. SMART objectives, as part of the program logic model, can tell us just this information. The program logic model not only lays out a plan or a map to developing a program/intervention, but it also points to the objectives of a program and what should be evaluated and measured.

Most of us are now accustomed to writing SMART objectives, but it’s always helpful to take a step back and revisit the evaluation plan. Are the objectives truly SMART? Can they be SMARTer?

A Review on SMART Objectives…

Specific – What will change and for whom? Be specific.
Measurable – Are your desired outcomes measurable? By how much will things change?
Achievable – Are your desired outcomes achievable and attainable?
Realistic – Are your desired outcomes realistic given our resources?
Time Bound – By when will you expect to see your desired outcomes?

When writing SMART objectives, it may be helpful to use an objective-writing template:

By (TIME BOUND: what date or completion of what activity),(SPECIFIC: describe who) will (SPECIFIC: describe change in knowledge, attitude or behavior) by indicator (MEASURABLE: describe how you will know change has occurred).

Evaluation in Practice: Evaluating the Implementation of Sex Education in Schools

From 2010-2012, Healthy Teen Network partnered with Elev8 and East Baltimore Development, Inc. to implement and evaluate sexuality education programs in several Baltimore City elementary and middle schools. Healthy Teen Network evaluators engaged educators, school staff, and Elev8 administrators in the evaluation process to obtain meaningful process and outcome evaluation data. Data were incorporated into the planning of each implementation cycle to improve program delivery and enhance outcomes.

The evaluation plan included development and administration of pre-and post-test tailored to the selected program and appropriate for young African American students, direct observation of class implementation, fidelity monitoring assessment, and individual and group interviews with key project staff. The mixed-method evaluation plan allowed Healthy Teen Network to assess the quality and fidelity of the implementation; to identify factors at the school, facilitator, and administration levels affecting the delivery of the program; and to assess gains in knowledge among participants.

Healthy Teen Network is able to support you in providing evaluation services, or building your capacity to conduct program evaluation:

  • Conducting a needs and resources assessment using multiple data collection methods and approaches (e.g., secondary analysis, collecting own data)
  • Developing evaluation plans
  • Designing data collection tools (quantitative and qualitative)
  • Planning and implementing data collection methods
  • Designing participant assessment protocols and tools
  • Designing instructor observation protocols and tools
  • Conducting qualitative data analysis using software
  • Developing evaluation reports
  • Interpreting evaluation results
  • Conducting continuous quality improvement (CQI) based on evaluation results

For more information on these capacity-building services, contact Mila Garrido or complete a service request form today.

Genevieve Martínez García, PhD, is a Senior Researcher at Healthy Teen Network.

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Confessions of a Sex Ed Mom

Deb Chilcoat

Deb Chilcoat

If you are expecting a blog post chock-full of shockingly juicy confessions, this one is NOT for you. Those will have to wait until my memoir is published posthumously (which, I hope, is no time soon). However, I do want to share few tidbits that—dare I say—help me be the best “Sex Ed Mom” to my children (and other peoples’ children) that I can be.

Confession #1: I had great sex educators in my life.
We all know that it is essential to communicate openly and honestly about sexuality with our sons and daughters—early and often. I was fortunate to have parents, teachers, and other adults in my life who were very open to discussing sexuality. I cannot recall if any question was too offensive, too outrageous, or too embarrassing to ask them…and I am fairly certain there were a few doozies over the years!  What I do remember is feeling comfortable and safe asking them, knowing that they would tell me the truth or help me find the answer. I guess you could say that they modeled some of the most important skills I learned as a sexuality educator and Sex Ed Mom: be accessible, open, and honest.

Confession #2: I had practice.
Long before I had my own children, I was committed to communicating openly to other people’s children about sex and sexuality. Whether it was my family or the students in my sexuality education programs, it was important to provide them as much information as possible about their bodies, relationships, and sexual decision making so that they could lead healthy and successful lives. It was great practice for when my own kids arrived on the scene many years later and (I hope!) will continue to guide me as they get older.

Confession #3: Topics I think are for public discourse (e.g., periods, masturbation, and condoms) are not always well-received by others.
Funny, though, sometimes when I do bring up these topics in conversation, it can be an amazing icebreaker! Which leads me to Confession #4…

Confession #4: I love talking to other parents about sexuality and reproductive health.
Once word gets out that you are a Sex Ed Mom,  be prepared to have conversations about sex and sexuality with other parents (and grandparents!) on the sidelines of your kids’ sports games or while roasting marshmallows over the campfire. Questions will inevitably include the following: when and how to talk to kids about body changes, the “bird and the bees,” HIV and AIDS, gender stereotypes, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Honestly, as long as these conversations don’t distract me from seeing my daughter’s amazing save in the soccer goal or watch my son crush the soccer ball in the back of the net, OR cause me to drop my marshmallow in the flames, I welcome these conversations and hope to have many, many more like them as our kids grow older.

Confession #5: I’m not perfect…not even close!
After all these years of teaching parents and other caregivers about communicating about sexuality, I still make mistakes and expect to make plenty more. What gives me comfort is that I am granted plenty of mulligans; I can circle back and clarify things I said or expand on ideas and concepts with my kids, and my kids can do the same with me!  Now, imagine if every family threaded conversations about sex and sexuality into everyday activities. What if…during long trips you powered-off your devices and turned off the radio to talk about body changes? What if… during meals it would be no big deal to ask you kids to pass the pepper and if any of their friends are “dating” and what that means at their age? What if…as your children go to sleep you could assure them that everything that is happening to their body is normal and beautiful?

Confession #6: I am optimistic.
I think, with a little courage, knowledge, and practice, each of us can shape the next generation of Sex Ed Moms (and Sex Ed Dads, and Sex Ed Aunts and Sex Ed Uncles, too!).

Do you have any sex ed confessions to share?

Talk to you on the sidelines!

Deborah Chilcoat, MEd, is a Senior Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

Opportunity Knocks: Teachable Moments

This blog post is part of a series highlighting Healthy Teen Network’s resources on using teachable moments to reach youth, through our Opportunity Knocks resources, including a fact sheet and pre-packaged, fully designed presentation, ready for you to use.  The Opportunity Knocks series is based on Healthy Teen Network’s belief that with accurate information and adequate support, young people can make healthy and responsible decisions about having sex and using contraception. Adults can be most effective by providing the information and support needed to promote responsible decision-making in youth and help ensure transition to adulthood is safe and healthy.

Gina Desiderio

A “teachable moment” is a general term, but one that I’m sure you’ve come across or used in your experiences working with youth. A teachable moment is a situation where opportunity knocks—a time at which a person, especially a child, is likely to be particularly disposed to learn something or to be particularly responsive to being taught or made aware of something.[1]

Teachable moments offer some advantages when trying to reach youth:

  1. Youth can make healthy and responsible decisions: With accurate information and adequate support, young people can make healthy and responsible decisions about having sex and using contraception.
  2. Adults can promote responsible decision-making: Adults can be most effective by providing the information and support needed to promote responsible decision-making in youth and help ensure transition to adulthood is safe and healthy.
  3. Creating a positive interaction opens the door for future opportunities: A key component for adults is taking advantage of teachable moments to discuss sex and the use of contraception with young people.  Youth are often hesitant to talk with adults about sex.  When young people are willing to discuss this topic, adults must be prepared to help by providing information and resources.  When the interaction is positive, it is more likely that the youth will return to the adult again.

Sometimes, adults are afraid that talking about sex leads to sex, but this is simply not true.  Talking about sex does not lead to sex.  Also, risk-taking can be part of normal adolescent development; adults can be most effective by promoting healthy decision-making during this stage. Talking about sex does not mean an adult is advocating sexual activity. Making the best use of teachable moments can help youth make better choices if and when they do make the decision to become sexually active.  Furthermore, sexual feelings are a part of normal adolescent development.[2]

Teachable moments can make initiating conversation about sex and contraception easier and more comfortable for everyone involved.   There are two kinds of teachable moments—those that spontaneously occur, and those that can be prompted based on a situation.  With spontaneous teachable moments, youth initiate the conversation.  With prompted teachable moments, the adult initiates the conversation, using the current situation or topic as a jumping off point.

Media often provide the opportunity for a prompted or a spontaneous teachable moment.  A television show, movie, or song, for example, may present a storyline or subject that contains an important lesson or example. Youth may bring these topics up, or you may be able to take advantage of this example and use it as a “jumping off point” in your discussion about safer sex and contraception. This type of teachable moment may seem contrived, but it is a great way to begin a conversation that may otherwise be difficult to initiate.

What are some ways you have used media examples or current events to prompt a teachable moment?

A helpful hint is not to limit your teachable moments to media that interests you; take some time to understand what interests the youth you work with. Read their magazines and be aware of popular television shows, movies, and music. These images, storylines, songs, and ads are what they are absorbing all of the time.

Teachable moments may also occur if a young person discloses something to, or confides in, you. As an educator, nurse, social worker, clinician, or other direct service provider, it is important to feel confident in your response if a young person discloses a personal situation or asks for advice. This type of teachable moment may catch you off guard, so it is important that you have the training, resources, and preparation to respond accordingly.

For example, I used to be a high school English teacher, and in my first year of teaching, I did not have any training or preparation in dealing with disclosure.  A student confided in me that she sometimes cut herself.  I was caught off guard; I didn’t know how to respond to her, in the moment, and I didn’t know what I was required to report, legally, or to keep confidential.

Whether the disclosure is spontaneous or prompted, it’s important to know the policy relevant to the situation.  While we aren’t able to review your specific organization’s or agency’s confidentiality and referral policy in just a single blog post, there are some important key points to be aware, in the event of a disclosure.  You should know:

  1.  What must be kept confidential (e.g., HIV status, sexual orientation)?
  2. What must be reported (e.g., abuse, intent to harm self or others)?
  3. What is your professional role expected to be (e.g., referral to counseling/crisis intervention or counseling/crisis intervention)?
  4. What are your professional boundaries?
  5. What  resources and referrals are available locally?

See your supervisor, credentialing organization, state law, etc., to find out more about your relevant confidentiality and reporting policies and laws.

It’s important to let youth know what’s confidential, as well.  This will help create a safe space, building trust, and encourage future opportunities for providing information, resources, and referrals.

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.


[1] Teachable Moments. (2009).  Encarta Dictionary. Retrieved online.

[2] Haffner, D. (Ed.). (1995). Facing facts: Sexual health for America’s adolescents. NY, NY: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Magical Thinking and Pregnancy Prevention

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

“Magical thinking” is a type of causal reasoning or causal fallacy that looks for meaningful relationships of grouped phenomena between acts and events. Those of us who work in the field of teen and unplanned pregnancy prevention are quite familiar with the concept of magical thinking as it relates to our work.  Sexually active teens and young adults know something about sex and contraception, but less than they think they know and so they underestimate the risks of unprotected sex and the U.S. continues to lead the world in teen pregnancies.

It is understandable that teens—and even some young adults—might not have all of the knowledge they need to prevent unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections.  Let’s face it, medically accurate, comprehensive sex ed is not available to most youth in this country.

But magical thinking on the part of our lawmakers is ludicrous, and dangerous.  If you spend a few minutes—and I mean just a few—tracking the line of reasoning supported by Todd Akin and others (our bodies will protect us from pregnancy during ‘legitimate’ rape –just as an aside, can anyone tell me what ‘illegitimate’ rape is?), you see  the above definition of magical thinking at work. Akin and those who think like him have attempted to create a reason to ban all abortion—even in the case of rape—by grouping together various scientific phenomena to make their case. For example, it is true that ovulation, implantation, etc. are chemically driven complex functions and it is true that stress causes a set of chemical reactions in our bodies—but fact 1 plus fact 2 does not equal ludicrous statement 3, even if sprinkled with fairy dust.

Perhaps this case of magical thinking does more to support the need for comprehensive sex ed than anything else we’ve had to offer.  Certainly we want those who attempt to legislate our bodies to at least have their facts right.

I suggest that every legislator be required to take a medically accurate, comprehensive sex ed class before being able to weigh in on such topics.  Healthy Teen Network would be glad to develop and offer such a class, and at a good price!  What do you think? Would your legislators attend?

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH, is President/CEO of Healthy Teen Network.

Free Condoms on Prom Night?

It was reported recently that a small public high school in Brooklyn, NY, would be making free condoms available at its upcoming prom. Condoms are already available for students of this school through its sex education program, according to the New York Times.

Darryl Rascoe, the school’s principal, told MSNBC, “As they leave the prom, they are welcome to it. We are not forcing it on anybody, but we want them to have that option.”

Since this news first hit the papers, plans to distribute the condoms have been scrapped. “I don’t want to do anything against DOE policy,” Rascoe said in an ABC interview.

In the MSNBC article, it was noted that “the prom condom distribution plan [would have been] accompanied by a safe sex school assembly sponsored by the condom maker a few days before the prom.” An essay contest on safe sex was also to be held and judged by the school’s English department. Parents had been notified about the plan, and the principal noted that he didn’t know of any opposition. That was until the story picked up steam and opponents and supporters alike voiced their opinions on the matter.

What do you think about offering free condoms on prom night? Good idea or bad? Take the poll and add your comments below!

The Stakes Remain High

Pat Paluzzi

Alexandra Eisler

The social networks have been a flutter with facts, opinions, and rumors since the release of three additional curricula to the Health and Human Services list of effective programs – Safer Choices, Respeto/Proteger, and Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education. Initially, Healthy Teen Network found research that appeared to call into question the efficacy of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education. The “Life Skills” component that was referenced in our previous post refers to add-on sessions to the curriculum that were not found to impact the program’s outcomes. We have since located the unpublished manuscript that was used to assess this program, and we will review it to learn more about its findings.

Regardless, Healthy Teen Network remains concerned about any program that promotes abstinence only until marriage. This framework for teaching young people about their sexual health excludes a variety of populations including LGBTQ youth and people who choose not to marry. We believe that youth deserve unbiased information about their sexual health that allows them to think critically about their relationships and community. Healthy Teen Network welcomes the opportunity to examine this curriculum further; however, at this time Heritage Services indicated that they could not share a copy of their curriculum.

We will continue to inquire about the findings associated with this program, and provide updates as we learn more.  We invite you to share any knowledge and/or experience you have had with any of these three newly approved programs.

Pat Paluzzi is the President/CEO and Alex Eisler is the Training and TA Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network.

High Stakes. Big Mistake?

Pat Paluzzi

Alexandra Eisler

Please note that as of 05/03/2012, an update to this post, regarding the evaluation of the Heritage Keepers program, has been posted here.

To be clear: this time of evaluating and expanding the public health field to support young people in making healthy decisions about their sexual health is a time to celebrate. This is a time when those with money, power, and sway hold a unique responsibility to back programming that promotes the well-being of all youth and provides them with accurate information that promotes healthy decision-making. The President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have played a central role in disseminating effective programs that promote these goals and have stood firm in approaching this work so that it values all young people and their families.

However, with that said, Healthy Teen Network was concerned to find that the expansion of the current list of HHS-vetted programs included Heritage Keepers Abstinence Only Education. HHS itself noted in 2007 that this program not only demonstrated “little or no impact on sexual abstinence or activity” but that its evaluation lacked rigor to determine if the collected behavioral data indicated actual behavior change among participants.[1]*

Looking to other programs on this list, they are rigorously evaluated with their results published in peer-reviewed journals providing a layer of quality control that ensures youth receive high-quality interventions that can save their lives. This program, Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education, has failed to be published. We, as public health professionals, should take pause at this shortcoming. Certainly, there are many quality programs available that have not been published, but those programs are not on this list and therefore not a part of this massive funding stream of tax dollars.

The program’s outcomes appear to be largely based on middle school students’ support of abstinence and expectation to remain abstinent.* Intentions to remain abstinent are a weak proxy to promote the health of our adolescents, and intentions do not necessarily result in a change in sexual-risk taking behaviors. Just look at the research on virginity pledges (82% of those who pledge deny having ever pledged).[2] In fact, the 2007 Mathematica report on this program—submitted to HHS—indicates the following:

  • Youth in the [Heritage Keepers program] and control groups reported similar rates of sexual abstinence. (p. 40)[3]
  • Youth in the [Heritage Keepers program] and control groups did not differ in reported age at first sex. (p. 41)[3]*

The stakes here are incredibly high and we should ask why a program like this would be included in the ranks of effective programs.

Evaluation aside, couching this program in the context of marriage and traditional gender roles flies in the face of championing the health of all communities. Narrowly focused messages like those espoused in this curriculum are at best ignorant of the needs of many youth, in particular LGBTQ youth, and at worst prejudicial and homophobic. Adolescents have the right to learn about their sexual health and determine what is right for them and their families without being bombarded with divisive ideology. For more information on some of the potentially damaging curriculum content, see this review.

As advocates for our young people, we have a responsibility to ensure that they get accurate information that allows them to build the lives that they themselves choose. The inclusion of a program like this in our most notable list of resources reflects poorly not only on the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, it reflects poorly on all of us. As an organization with young people’s health first and foremost in mind, Healthy Teen Network is outraged and saddened that work of this caliber represents the sexual health profession. This is a time to hold our leaders accountable for promoting programming that places the lives of our youth and our families at risk.

Pat Paluzzi is the President/CEO and Alex Eisler is the Training and TA Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network.


[3] http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/abstinence07/HK/report.pdf

*This post has been updated.  These statements regarding evaluation relate to a 2007 review, but these do not appear to be the same evaluation results used in the 2011 review.  See our updated post here.

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