ST. LOUIS — A sex education instructor with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri is among 10 teachers across the country to make Time magazine’s Innovative Teachers list, chosen for making a difference for their students in a unique way.
Willow Rosen, who uses the pronouns they/them, teaches a curriculum that covers topics like anatomy, hygiene, puberty and sexual consent while being sure not to exclude anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The lessons can be geared toward those in kindergarten through college.
The magazine called Rosen’s shame-free and inclusive approach “revolutionary” in the United States, where sex education is often either not taught or sticks to abstinence-only messages.
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Missouri is one of 26 states without a sex education requirement for schools. Missouri only requires “health education” that includes HIV/AIDs prevention.
When sex ed is taught, state law only requires that it be “medically and factually accurate,” include instruction on consent and present abstinence as the preferred choice.
Rosen is also working with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group to develop a curriculum specifically for transgender students. The team is hosting its first course next month at the MTUGroup headquarters in St. Louis.
“Willow’s work is breaking ground outside of traditional educational institutions that have historically excluded Planned Parenthood’s innovative curricula in the state of Missouri,” the Planned Parenthood affiliate said in a press release.
Many area schools use Thrive St. Louis — a Christian organization consisting of clinics that use controversial tactics to discourage women from having abortions — to teach its Best Choice “sexual risk prevention” program in schools for free.
Best Choice came under fire five years ago by parents who said the program lacked transparency, used shame-based lessons and failed to include information students need to have lifelong healthy relationships.
Rosen said being recognized by Time is an important step in recognizing gender-expansive students.
“We are proud to represent our diverse identities in the communities we serve,” they said. “Our program works to heal some of the wide-reaching disservice and stigma related to sex education. Our education prides itself on honesty, evidence-informed or evidence-based practices.”
Comprehensive sexuality education has been shown to help youths to delay sex, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase condom and contraceptive use.
Research suggests promoting abstinence-only outside of marriage while withholding information about contraceptives does not delay sex, and can actually place young people at increased risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
Rosen’s award comes just after the Republican-led Missouri Legislature introduced half a dozen measures to criminalize gender-affirming medical treatment for children and ban transgender youth from competing in school sports.
Washington, Arkansas, Arizona and Texas have already passed laws banning gender-affirming medical treatment for children, and more than a dozen states restrict transgender women and girls from playing on female sports teams in public schools.
Yamelsie Rodríguez, president of the St. Louis region’s Planned Parenthood, said she was happy to see Rosen’s team honored for bringing inclusive education into the community.
“At a time when too many politicians — including those in Missouri — are pushing discriminatory policies against LGBTQIA+ people, it is vitally important that we lift up populations often pushed to the margins,” Rodriguez said. “Every person deserves access and resources—sex education included.”
Time editors wrote that because teachers have faced unique challenges over the past two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic and political divisiveness, they wanted to honor innovative instructors with the first-ever list.
The magazine received hundreds of nominations editors and selected 10 teachers “who stood out for going above and beyond to improve learning experiences for kids who need it, and solving problems schools face today.”
The St. Louis region’s Planned Parenthood partnership with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group launched over a year ago as TRANSforming Community TRANSforming Care (TC2), a $3 million program that provides gender-affirming care for those who are uninsured or underinsured in addition to creating an sex education curriculum for the gender expansive community.