Newell, S, Britt, W & Graham, A 2011, Evaluating Interrelate's School Education Programs: Minding Me, report prepared for Interrelate Family Centres, Sydney, NSW.
Minding Me is one of six relationship and sexuality education programs delivered by Interrelate Family Centres. It involves two 90-minute class-based sessions and is designed to provide Year 5 students with information and strategies to help them navigate the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and relationship changes they may experience during puberty. The Minding Me program involves a variety of creative activities and teaching methods, is facilitated by specially trained Educators and has a clearly articulated structure, content and objectives, which have been correlated against the NSW Board of Studies’PD/H/PE syllabus. This evaluation report is based on data collected from 43 Minding Me groups using surveys developed by the authors, in collaboration with Interrelate team members.
Both students and teachers reported high levels of satisfaction with the Minding Me program. Most students rated the Minding Me program as enjoyable, interesting, good to have discussed in a group and fun (particularly older students), although half also found it somewhat embarrassing (particularly female students). Very few students found it boring (particularly not older students) but one-third did find some bits hard to understand. Similarly, almost all teachers rated the Minding Me program as engaging for their students, interesting, enjoyable, good value and good to have discussed in a group. Although some teachers found the program a little embarrassing, very few thought it was too long or hard to understand. Students’ and teachers’ written comments reinforced these positive satisfaction ratings, with only a few suggestions for improvement.
Both students and teachers also reported having found the Minding Me program a very useful learning experience. Students reported moderate-high levels of learning across all topic areas, particularly in relation to keeping themselves safe, how their bodies would change during puberty and the feelings they may experience as they do so. Similar levels of learning were reported across all student age-groups but male students reported learning more about “Nocturnal emissions (wet dreams)”, while female students reported having learnt more in relation to most other topics and being more likely to discuss the issues further. Teachers reported a refreshed understanding of the topics covered, increased confidence, capacity and comfort to discuss the topics covered with their students and having learned more about their students, particularly in terms of the open and mature ways in which they engaged with the program. Again, students’ and teachers’ written comments reinforced their perceived learnings from the Minding Me program. While most teachers expected to talk more about the topics with their classes, students felt most likely to discuss them further with their family or friends.
Although based on a post-only survey (for pragmatic reasons), the consistency of and concordance between participants’ ratings and written comments enhance our confidence in the validity of the findings presented in this report. This confidence is further strengthened by the very high response rates achieved from both students and teachers and the similar findings from our evaluations of Interrelate’s MITTY and Where Did I Come From? / Preparing for Puberty programs (Newell et al., 2011a; Newell et al., 2011b).
Therefore, Interrelate can confidently promote the existing Minding Me program as an acceptable, curriculum-relevant and effective way of introducing senior primary students to the topics covered (ie: the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and relationship changes they may experience during puberty, personal safety issues and constructive approaches to conflict resolution). However, Interrelate might like to consider whether the Minding Me program could usefully be further refined, based on the very few concerns or suggestions raised by students and/or teachers (although some comments may conflict with requirements of the NSW Board of Studies). While the greater learnings reported by female students may simply represent more widely-occurring gender differences, it may be another area Interrelate could consider in any review. With the current evaluation necessarily limited to the immediate post-program period, Interrelate could also consider conducting some additional follow up evaluations in order to determine the extent and nature of any longer-term impacts of the Minding Me program.
Hence, Interrelate is well-positioned to contribute to addressing the reported demand (from Australian parents and youth) for more comprehensive relationship and sexual health education, which is seen to include topics such as relationship decision-making, personal safety, puberty and the correct names for male and female genitals (Carmody and Willis, 2006; Macbeth et al., 2009). The timing of Interrelate’s Minding Me (Year 5) and MITTY (Year 6) programs is another strength, given most Australian parents’ belief that this sexual education should start in primary school (Macbeth et al., 2009) and evidence that it has more impact when delivered before young people become sexually active (Mueller et al., 2008). The teacher involvement is also valuable, given parent- and teacher-perceived room for improvement in training teachers in the delivery of sexuality education (Macbeth et al., 2009; Milton, 2003).