- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Lauriel Patterson knows the power of saying no. She grew up next door to a girl who had a baby at 13 and then gave birth to twins at 16.
"It ruined her life. She never had the opportunity to be with friends her own age," said Miss Patterson, who turns 18 next week.
"I know I gotta think smart," she said.
Miss Patterson has joined hands with four of her peers at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in Northwest to help start a sex-education program where teen-agers can learn about choices like abstinence and the importance of safe sex.
Miss Patterson and her friends practice what they preach. When her boyfriend of two years began to suggest they should have sexual relations, she told him she wasn't ready. He agreed to wait, she said, because "he is pretty easygoing."
But she has no doubts about what she would have done had he pressured her. "I would have dumped him," Miss Patterson said, adding that all women should know they have the choice to say no.
The sex-education program started out as a class project for the five high-schoolers in January 2000. For their subject, the girls chose reproductive rights. "Just being a young woman in today's world, it is important to know about the choices we have before us," said Monique Jackson, 17, one of the students who participated in the project.
"Lots of teens have sex because they are curious. They just think of it as something to do," said student Ari Humphries, 18.
The students worked on the project with Choice USA, a D.C.-based group dealing with reproductive issues young people face. The key word for youth today is information, said Choice USA's executive director, Crystal Plati. While abstinence is a good idea, she said, it is not always possible to get teens to stick with it.
"But when young people have the information, they can make respectable choices," she said, adding that comprehensive sex education decreases the need for choices like abortion.
The more they learned, the young women said, the more they became aware of the need to educate all teens about sex. Because Cesar Chavez lacked a sex-education program, the five students held a weekend workshop, which turned out to be a big success, they said.
"A big part of it was talking to parents and encouraging communication between young people and their parents," said Zakiya Jones, 17.
Encouraged by their success, the young women started talking with school administrators about creating a sex-education program, and in the spring last year, Cesar Chavez added a sex-education class to its curriculum. The school now holds a workshop for students every Thursday.
Administrators say the program has been very beneficial. "This is a time when students have low self-esteem, and by teaching them it is OK to say no, we can help build their confidence," said Lisa Raymond, chief of operations at the school.
The five students say they are happy with the way things have shaped up and by what they have learned.
"The sex class doesn't encourage people to think about having more sex," said Miss Patterson. "It tells them there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and if they are not informed about it, it can kill them."


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