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OWL: Everything You Need to Know
General Assembly 2008 Event 2057
Presenters included: Helio Fred Garcia, OWL teacher from All Souls Church, New York City; Grace Garner, legislative assistant for Women's Issues and the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Women's Federation for Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Advocacy and Witness; Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, Adult Programs Director for the UUA; and Jessica York, Youth Programs Director for the UUA.
The session began with an introduction to the Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education program. Its lifespan scope encompasses six levels, ranging from kindergarten through adult. OWL's approach is comprehensive: going beyond identifying body parts to include relationships and personal skills in addition to sexual health and behavior. OWL addresses decision-making, clarifies values, builds interpersonal skills, and deepens understanding of spiritual, emotional and societal aspects of sexuality, which can influence the decisions we make. Its “three Rs” are Responsibility, Respect, and Relationships.
OWL provides materials for each level, and parent guides for the K-1 and grades 4-6 levels. Also, there is an advocacy manual for sexuality education, health, and justice, with resources for communities of faith.
The presenters noted that the program projects many important values. OWL affirms self-worth, the importance of sexual health, and healthy, safe relationships. Emphasizing responsibility in making sexual choices, the program is sensitive to being inclusive of different races and sexual orientations. In contrast to the abstinence-only stance of many religious-based programs, OWL teaches that it is healthier for children to delay sexual intercourse, not say no to it altogether.
Presenters explained that the program uses five circles of sexuality—encompassing sexualization, sensuality, intimacy, sexual health and reproduction, and sexual behavior—to help adolescents contextualize abstract or unfamiliar aspects of sexuality. Workshop participants learned about these circles through an OWL game in which they were asked to categorize several ideas. This led to a spirited discussion about the nature of ideas such as body image, sexual harassment, caring, gender roles, and physiology—from the perspective of the adults attending the workshop, in contrast to what children and youth say when they do the same activity.
Rev. Millspaugh offered a bit of history about OWL. In 1971, the Unitarian Universalist Association devised a multimedia curriculum called About Your Sexuality, in response to the sexual revolution occurring in popular culture. In 1993, when the United Church of Christ sought a sexuality education program, they teamed up with UUA to develop an updated curriculum. Using the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education developed by the National Guidelines Task Force, a group of leading health, education, and sexuality professionals assembled by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the two denominations developed a research-based program that aligned with the values of both faiths. In 1999, Our Whole Lives was launched. Over 1500 teachers have been trained, and two-thirds of Unitarian Universalist congregations are using the grades 7-9 program today.
Reported by Toby Haber; edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley.