- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

At 11, Yolanda Lucas may seem a little young to be in a sexual abstinence program.

Not so, says her mother, Sheila, who wants Yolanda to learn early about the problems associated with sexual activity at a very young age.

"I think she should have been taught this when she was 9," she said.

Her view was shared by other parents whose children packed the Kenneth Dias Medical Auditorium at the D.C. General Hospital Thursday. They participated in Project R.E.A.L. (Ready, Eager and Able to Learn How to Survive Adolescence Without Having a Baby), a 12-month pilot program by the D.C. Health and Hospitals' Public Benefit Corp. (PBC) to promote abstinence among sixth-graders in Wards 7 and 8 in the District.

PBC chose the wards because they have the city's highest rates of unemployment, high school dropouts, welfare recipients and infant and adult mortality, officials said.

"Young people today need to be informed, need to be educated about growth, development and sexuality even before sixth grade," said Carolyn French, director of the PBC's school health program.

Project R.E.A.L. began in October with a $119,000 grant from the D.C. Department of Human Resources Income Maintenance Organization.

To date 70 students, both male and female, have enrolled in the program, Mrs. French said. Middle schools participating in the project include Brown, Evans, Hart and Sousa.

Parents of the enrolled students sign a consent letter and agree verbally to keep their children from participating in sexual activity.

"Children want direction and guidance and people that are responsible can give that to them," said Angela Cook, project coordinator for PBC.

The project attempts to emphasize the positive effects of recreational activity rather than dating. Nurses working for the PBC take the students to the theater or bowling, and encourage them to get involved in after-school activities, Mrs. French said.

On Thursday, a few such activities were highlighted during a one-hour program at the hospital that included a puppet show, a magic show, rap music and poetry, along with ice cream and cake.

"We want the children to see that these are the fun things they can do to spend their time constructively," said Mrs. French, who estimated that about 100 children participated Thursday.

With a little encouragement from the performers on stage, the children in the auditorium joined in singing, to the tune of R&B; singer Lauryn Hill's hit "That Thing": "No, don't wanna be a mom, no don't wanna be a dad, until I reach my goals."

Jacqueline Simmons took a day off from work to attend the program with her children, Jerome, 13, and Shavon, 12, both sixth-graders.

Miss Simmons, who became a mom when she was 19, said she wants to make sure her children do not make the same mistakes she did.

"When my children ask me about sex, I don't want to lie like my mom did to me," said Miss Simmons.

Shavon joined her mother in between playing with the other children to say she wants to become a doctor when she grows up.

As for Yolanda Lucas, she said she wants to be a surgeon someday.

Her favorite part of the program was the food, she said, with the magic show a distant second.

Did she understand anything that was being said?

"I don't want to get pregnant until I'm married," she replied, with a little prompting from her mother.

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