During school hours, Mike Greiner teaches English at Westfield High. But in the spring, and again toward the end of the school year, he taught evening classes in abstinence education.
He did it in a fun, entertaining and relaxed way while imparting valuable information. And when he was done, the students wanted to choose abstinence on their own — not because authority figures told them they should — but because they really learned and understood why it’s important for them.
“WE BELIEVE in giving kids the whole message, and they’ll make the right choice,” said Greiner. “Our goal is to make a rational case for abstinence, instead of saying, ‘Put on a condom and all will be well.’”
Greiner works part time presenting this program through the Educational Guidance Institute of Front Royal. It’s funded via a Community-Based Abstinence-Education grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Thirty students came to all six, springtime sessions and responded so positively that Greiner offered four more sessions later on.
They watched a movie and talked about character, making good decisions and becoming better people. And, said Greiner, “This also gives parents the nudge they need to talk to their children about abstinence, when the students talk to them about what they learned in the seminar.”
Missy Gurley, music teacher at St. Veronica Catholic School, also helped instruct. And Onalee McGraw, the project director who developed the Heart to Heart character and abstinence program, oversaw it all. Greiner taught the students that only they can abstain for themselves; parents can’t do it for them.
They also did a bonding activity to teach students to listen to the voices of reason in their lives — parents, friends and teachers, rather than the voices of confusion found in others trying to lead them astray.
“In the real world, it’s hard to separate the good voices from the bad voices,” said Greiner. “Our goal is to give you tools to help you do that.”
Several of them came from the 1948, Academy Award-winning movie, “Johnny Belinda,” through which the students learned good and bad character traits. It presented messages that love transforms people and, said Greiner, that “vanity is a threat to love and allows us to be taken in by those who are self-serving,” said Greiner. “Humility is the antidote. It’s being modest and respectful and seeing yourself and your relationships realistically.”
THE STUDENTS watched the movie in several segments, discussing the specific traits found in each character. The villain was selfish, demanding, impatient and uncaring; whereas the hero was caring, nice, helpful, humble and selfless. One woman was blind to the truth about the villain, so she was figuratively handicapped. Yet another woman, who was deaf, could see the truth clearly.
“Your behavior shows what kind of person you are,” said Gurley. “And if you get involved with your boyfriend or girlfriend physically, you become emotionally attached to them and blind to their faults, the real truth about them and your relationship with them.”
She also told the students that the choices people make regarding their sexuality affect every other part of their lives. “People want to believe that sexuality is just one part of their lives,” said Greiner. “But it has an impact on your brain, your family and your academics.”
Noting that the second segment of the movie shows how sex affects people’s emotions, Greiner said, “In our culture, we often confuse love and sex. They’re linked, but they’re not the same. Sex is a wonderful, beautiful thing, when you’re ready – and between married people.”
The class also discussed the new legislation making the HPV (human papiloma virus) vaccine mandatory for 11-12-year-old girls. “But it only kills 70 percent of the virus — 30 percent survives,” said Greiner. “Will women think they’re 100-percent protected and behave accordingly?”
“A virus is a ‘gift’ that keeps giving,” added Gurley. “And there’s no medical cure for viruses; antibiotics won’t help.” She told the students that STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases) beginning with the letter “H” – such as HIV, HPV and herpes — are viral and stay with a person for life.
She also advised girls to look in the mirror, before going on a date, to see what their outfit says about them: “Enjoy me as an object” or “Get to know the whole person, not just the body.”
Greiner noted, as well, that boys and girls bond with people differently. “Girls release the enzyme, oxytocin, when they see someone they like, and it makes them feel good,” he said. “Boys release vasopressin; we bond with physical ejaculation. So it’s important for men, particularly, to keep things at a low level.”
FURTHERMORE, he said, “When people who have had sex prior to marriage do marry, sex isn’t as strong a bond as it would have been had he or she waited,” said Greiner. “If you wait to have sex ‘til you’re married, you’ll have the strongest emotional, psychological and chemical bond possible.”
As for the students’ reaction to the class, sophomore Melissa Paris said she signed up because of a glowing recommendation from a friend who was in the first session. Still, she said, “I thought it would be awkward; but we had a lot of fun.” She also believes it was beneficial.
“We talked a lot about having a healthy relationship and not letting someone else make the decisions for you,” said Paris. “And we learned fun, refusal skills and snappy comebacks.” For example, she said, a girl could explain to a boy why she didn’t feel it was appropriate for her to have sex at that time, and that she was waiting for marriage to give herself to a man. A snappy comeback, said Paris, could be, “Everybody might be doing it, but I’m not everybody.”
Besides, she said, “You know that’s not true that ‘everybody’s doing it.’ And it’s valuable knowing that other people have the same mindset as you. So you can have confidence in yourself and your friends and make up your own mind.”
She, too, would “definitely recommend” this class to others. “It’s something kids should have the option of doing, because they give a lot of helpful information,” said Paris. “Sometimes, kids think that learning things from their friends is better. But when you learn [about sex] from adults — and they back it up with facts — you get the full story. I think the class was an amazing opportunity and I'm glad I took it."
Sophomore Quincy Norton, 15, also gleaned lots of useful information. For one thing, he said, "I learned that the statistics about how safe condoms are — 85-percent effective — are biased, because the research was conducted by the condom companies."
Furthermore, he said, "I feel it's a very important class because, in health, they just teach you about STDs as the reason to abstain. But in this class, they also teach you about the emotional benefits of abstinence. When you have intercourse before marriage, the success rate of your marriage would be greatly diminished."
Norton, too, would "strongly recommend every kid take this class because — I bet if everyone went to the seminar and learned about the dangers of sex before marriage — most would abstain. I'd already made the decision to abstain until marriage; I just wanted to hear what Mr. Greiner had to say about it because he's my English teacher and he's a very good teacher."
When asked what he'd do if male friends teased him about his decision and pressured him to have sex like they were, Norton said he'd respond with the comebacks he learned in class. And if those didn't work, he said he'd find new friends.
Sophomore Morgan Hicks also enjoyed the class and called the movie "awesome. It stressed abstinence and how to be a better person. It wasn't anything I'd have originally watched — I'd never heard of it — but it ended up being a really great movie with great morals to it."
AT FIRST, she said, "I thought it was crazy that they were having an abstinence seminar at my school; you don't hear about that happening, every day. But I went in with an open mind and learned how to be a better, whole person, focusing on all the different aspects of my life."
Hicks also praised Greiner as a teacher. "He's phenomenal," she said. "Because of his personality, he can make any awkward situation enjoyable; he's a great guy."
She noted that her Christian religion teaches her to be abstinent until marriage but, after taking this class, "I had a new confidence that there were other people who felt the same way I did. And it provided statistics showing that most high-school students aren't sexually active, and that was nice to know."
Hicks, too, hopes other students take this class "because it's a great environment. And it's not like they're trying to force opinions on you; they want you to make your own. They just give you the background knowledge so you can make an informed decision."