Program-inspired changes extend to students' sexual intentions, as well. In deference to their age, the entry survey for students in middle school omitted questions regarding their sexual experience. Among the high school students surveyed, though, 30% (of n=116) answered "yes" to the question, "Have you ever had sexual intercourse? (By sexual intercourse, we mean the act that makes babies.)" Cross-tabulating responses on the exit survey revealed that several students who were sexually experienced felt themselves, post-program, "somewhat less likely" or "much less likely" to have sex in the next six months.
Of ALL students responding to the exit survey question (n=227), 67% found themselves, post-program, to be MUCH LESS LIKELY to have sex in the next 6 months.
Conversely, some students who had entered the program anxious about adolescence and sexuality found that the information provided relieved some of the stress and confusion that surrounded the topic for them. Post-program, they felt better equipped to understand the changes they were experiencing and to seek guidance from trusted adults.
"I thought it was awkward but it seems natural and a comfortable thing to talk about."
From the start, TWU staff were careful to avoid stigmatizing young parents or youth who choose to have sex. The creation of life and the birth of a child are sacred events Tewa people cherish and celebrate as beautiful and essential elements of wowatsi, the circle of life. Many of the participating youth are themselves children of teen parents, and the program honors and acknowledges each individual life path.
Young Women United participated during the planning period, engaging youth, facilitating focus groups, and advising with respect to LGBTQ issues.
The program focused instead on providing medically accurate information about female and male anatomy, adolescent changes and the reproductive process, protecting oneself from sexually transmitted infections, and understanding and accessing contraceptive methods. Facilitators helped students recognize their right (and responsibility) to exercise choice over whether, when, and with whom to have sex, and to make conscious decisions with respect to becoming a parent.
"I thought the funniest thing was [my son] knowing all the lady parts," one mother confessed. Another added, "Mine, too! He was actually drawing them for me."
Fine-grained data resolution and search functions allowed us to query IBIS, New Mexico’s public health database, to learn about births in Rio Arriba County to Native American women aged 10-19. Reliable records are available from 1990 on, and show a wide variance, year to year, in the number of births. (This is more common in smaller populations such as this, where average n=1014.) Despite the variance, the data for 2014 -- following the first year of A'Gin Project implementation in the schools -- show the lowest adolescent birth rate in 25 years.
In 2014 the rate was 8.1 per 1,000, the lowest rate in 25 years and less than half the average rate (19.2 per 1,000) for that time period.
It’s not possible to attribute this change to the A’Gin Project alone. Various other factors may be at play. But other evidence suggests that a change is afoot: that the topic of healthy sexuality and body sovereignty may not be as taboo among Tewa communities as it has been, and that young people may be choosing to consider the benefits and pitfalls of the behavior before they take action.