The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014, and early voting is already underway! Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” Make your voice heard in 2014!
Kyrene School District encompasses Ahwatukee as well as parts of Chandler, Guadalupe, Tempe, and the Gila River Indian Reservation. It is home to approximately 18,000 students in 19 elementary schools and six middle schools.
In a state that doesn’t mandate sex education of any kind for its students, abstinence-only education — or the complete absence of any sexuality education programs whatsoever — is the norm in Arizona. Kyrene School District currently uses abstinence-only-until marriage curricula, but supplements the information with outside sources, for instance by inviting representatives from the health department to talk to students about sexually transmitted diseases and condom use. While this kind of supplemental information is good, the school district has the opportunity to deliver much better sexuality education to its students.
Allison Ewers is uniquely positioned to bring her background in sensitive and inclusive educational curricula to help Kyrene improve its sex education programs to be truly comprehensive. On October 19, she shared with us her vision for public education in Kyrene, and how her unique background will inform her participation on the school board.
“Education is power, and … our children can use that power to keep themselves safe.”
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a proud resident of the Kyrene School District and graduate of the public school and university system in Arizona. I will work hard to ensure that our children have the same opportunities for success that I have had.
I am currently a producer for HP2, Inc., a local Arizona small business. My involvement in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, the Arizona Science Fair, Arizona Local First, One Community, and the Arizona Small Business Association has allowed me to see firsthand the crippling effect that discrimination has had on our state. This makes it much more difficult to attract high-wage, technically advanced business to the Valley.
When I travel worldwide, I am often asked, “What is wrong with Arizona? There seems to be so much hate.” I am working to change this reputation. It is time for strong leaders in our schools and our state Legislature. I can no longer stand by and watch this happen to the reputation of a state that I am so proud of, so I have chosen to step up.
Why is it important to you to be involved with education in your community?
Our schools are where our future begins. I have had the privilege of meeting the brightest students from around the world with my involvement in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. I am extremely concerned about our ability to continue to compete in the global marketplace. Our rating in the bottom fourth in the nation in education is not helping us recruit and keep strong businesses in our state.
I am fortunate that Kyrene is a very strong and a highly rated school district, and I want to keep it that way. There is a movement to continually defund public education, cut programs, and negatively portray what our schools are accomplishing. I have had the rewarding experience of sharing the amazing things Kyrene students and teachers are doing while canvassing this last year, and I look forward to continuing to be an outspoken public education advocate.
Does your school district offer its students age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education? Do you think the current policy can be improved?
The Kyrene School District has one of the most comprehensive sex education curricula in the state. The district educates students on puberty, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and making good choices. Sixth through eighth graders will be the only ones to hear the controversial sex definitions.
Like most districts, Kyrene uses an opt-in program, which limits the number of students who receive the lesson because parents must agree to it. For years now, the Kyrene School District has been applying updated information to this curriculum, including a more controversial subject on the use of condoms. I am proud of the district for being proactive on the subject. This is not an easy task and has had its share of opposition.
We have a duty to continue to keep this education relevant, which will mean curriculum updates every other year, if not annually. The system they have created on keeping the community and parents notified of changes has been effective. Most importantly, the district recognizes that if human growth and well-being topics are not covered prior to high school, we have done a disservice to our children.
According to current Arizona law (ARS 15-176), no school district that includes HIV/AIDS education in their curricula may use instruction that “promotes a homosexual life-style,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Do you think such an approach is in the best interest of students?
I worked on a project at the University of Arizona called the Human Growth and Wellbeing Project all four years that I was there. This program centered on kindergarten to eighth grade students, and was a very comprehensive advanced curriculum.
One of the key components to the first year of education was sensitivity issues. We created a comfortable and compassionate environment where all students could be comfortable being who they are. You cannot fully reach children when they have a bit of themselves that they are hiding. This was very successful and did not single out homosexuality. It allowed for all children to be proud of their differences.
I watched many of the youth that participated in this project grow up to be very compassionate adults, and many just did not understand why this was even an issue. All lifestyles can be positive, and if you make this inclusive of homosexuality, discrimination will become irrelevant. I believe the technique that we used was amazing, it had to be started at a young age. I will share my experiences with the district on this as we continue to modify sexuality education.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill that would have allowed discrimination against LGBTQ individuals based on religious beliefs. Similarly, Tucson Unified School District amended its nondiscrimination policy to include protections for transgender students and employees. Given the discrimination that LGBTQ Arizonans still face, how would you help your district protect its students from bullying and harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation?
My experience with the Human Growth and Wellbeing Project proved that early age education on compassion and sensitivity issues made homosexual discrimination irrelevant. For those students who did not receive education early in their development, we must have good counselors in our schools. The leaders of our schools and community can have a huge impact on the success of non-bullying practices. Our adults must show our children that discrimination is not acceptable, which means that many of them must be educated too.
In any environment where I have seen this become an issue, those companies, schools, and organizations that took immediate action on educating the adults and the children have had a successful decline in bullying. I would mandate that teachers get accurate information and be held accountable for their conduct, and I will encourage sensitivity and compassion training starting in kindergarten.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
For so many reasons.
PPAA provides accurate, non-discriminatory education to our community.
PPAA supports my belief that education is power, and that our children can use that power to keep themselves safe.
PPAA does not give up or give in to special interests. They have always stood up for what is in the best interest of our community.
PPAA is continually educating members of the community on the most accurate health information available.
PPAA provides so many non-sex related health services to men, women, and children who otherwise would have no access to care.