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Kids don't usually learn about the birds and bees in kindergarten. Unless, of course, they're Dutch.

The Netherlands' comprehensive sexuality education program starts in kindergarten. But what are those kids actually learning?

Kids don't usually learn about the birds and bees in kindergarten. Unless, of course, they're Dutch.

Oh, kindergarten. Finger painting, ABCs, and sexuality education.

Wait, sex ed!? Yep, you read that right.


WHAT ARE THESE CHILDREN WORKING ON, SEX WORKSHEETS?!?! (JK, probably not.) Image via Thinkstock.

Welcome to sex ed in the Netherlands. It starts when kids are 4.

As reported by PBS NewsHour, the Netherlands follows a program called “comprehensive sexuality education."

As part of the program, schools feature a week of classes in the spring focused on everything from love and healthy relationships (for the little kiddos) to safe sex and birth control (for the teens). The week is called “lentekriebels," which translates to “spring fever."

So wait, are 4-year-olds learning about sex in school?

Not exactly. But they are having open conversations that will make it easier to learn about those topics at a later age.

In one classroom, PBS filmed a clip of kindergarteners discussing hugging. “When do you hug someone?" asked the teacher. One student responded, “If you love someone."

Young kids talk about what people do when they love each other. Image via PBS NewsHour.

In later years, the students do learn specifically about sex: how to have sex, how to choose contraception, how to deal with resistance to using a condom, all sorts of things you'd typically think of being covered under "sex ed."

Even for older teens, sex itself isn't the only focus. Students also learn things like ... how to find (and enforce) their own boundaries.

But even for older teens, sex itself isn't the only focus. Students also learn things like how to communicate with their partner, how to find (and enforce) their own boundaries, and even how to use the Internet safely.

A class of 11-year-olds talks about what it's like to be in love. Image via PBS NewsHour.

OK, so spill the stats.

Does the comprehensive sexuality education program actually work? That depends, of course, on what you're measuring by.

Research shows that teenagers in the U.S. in the Netherlands first have sex at around the same age — about 17 for American teens, about 18 for Dutch teens.

But the U.S. has significantly higher rates of teen pregnancy and birth. In the Netherlands, 6 women out of every 1,000 aged 15-19 will give birth; 14 out of every 1,000 will get pregnant. The U.S. numbers are 4-5 times as high: 30 women out of every 1,000 aged 15-19 will give birth, and 57 will get pregnant.

"66% of sexually active American teens surveyed said they wished that they had waited longer to have sex for the first time."

The statistic I found really striking, though, has to do with how teens felt about their "first time." PBS NewsHour reports that in the Netherlands, most 12- to 25-year-olds "say they had 'wanted and fun' first sexual experiences. By comparison, 66% of sexually active American teens surveyed said they wished that they had waited longer to have sex for the first time."

Plenty of American movies show someone's first time as being after prom and ... not great. Image via Thinkstock.

The big deal isn't exactly what they're talking about, it's the fact that they're talking about it at all.

The Netherlands is known for having an incredibly open culture when it comes to discussing sex. No, I'm not saying that all parents in the Netherlands are telling their teens to have sex all the time, but the topic of conversation is far less taboo than we're used to in the U.S.

Open conversations, less shame when talking about sexuality, and ultimately more information overall? A culture like that means teens can actually gather the information to make smart choices that are right for them.

Sounds like a win to me.

Want to see it all in action? Check out this clip from PBS of a classroom full of 11-year-olds talking about what it's like to be in love. My favorite line here is when a young girl responds to the question, "What is really being in love?" with the wise words, "You find someone nicer than just regular nice." So true, my friend. So true.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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