Spotlight On: Andrea Gerber and Kari Kesler, FLASH Authors

Spotlight On: Andrea Gerber and Kari Kesler, FLASH Authors

July 7th, 2016

Andrea Gerber, MSEd, and Kari Kesler, MA, are the lead authors of the FLASH curriculum, a widely used sexual health education curriculum. Ms. Gerber has extensive knowledge of curriculum development, project management, and pregnancy and STD prevention. She has overseen material development projects and has led countless teacher trainings on sexual health education. Ms. Kesler has been a Family Planning Health Educator with Public Health–Seattle & King County for over 10 years. She has also worked as a sexual violence prevention educator and as a college instructor. She has designed and led projects designed to lower teen pregnancy, STD and HIV rates in various communities.

After this year’s FLASH training, we had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Gerber and Ms. Kesler about their own experiences with sex education, their inspiration and theory behind FLASH, and why this curricula is so unique.

How did you get into the field of sexuality education?

Andrea: I had no awareness of the field growing up, and I definitely had no role models for sexual health education, but my interests all led in this direction. When I learned that sexuality education was an actual field of graduate study, I headed straight to the Human Sexuality Education Program at University of Pennsylvania, which is now at Widener. I've been in the field a long time, and I feel incredibly lucky.

Kari: I had always had an interest in sexuality and in women’s issues. I received a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies and taught several college classes both before and after graduation, which led me into the teaching and training field professionally. Before working for Public Health I worked as a sexual violence prevention educator – an issue which I care deeply about. Ultimately, I felt that working on sexual violence prevention separately from other sexual and reproductive health issues was limiting, and I sought out opportunities that afforded more flexibility and cross-analysis. I was very fortunate to find such an opportunity at Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC).

What inspired you/Public Health Seattle- King County to write the FLASH curriculum?

FLASH was originally published by PHSKC in the 1980s in response to the dearth of high quality sexual health education lessons available to teachers and community educators. It began as a sort of compilation of all the best lessons local sexual health educators were using and grew from there as we learned more about what makes sexual health education effective. Beth Reis was the educator at PHSKC who originally spearheaded the creation of FLASH and maintained it for many years before she retired. We are indebted to her and to the contributions of many other educators who helped shape FLASH along the way.

What is your favorite part of your job?

We both really enjoy the opportunity to translate research into real world interventions. It allows us to spend time in classrooms with young people, collaborating with other educators, training teachers and learning about all the most recent and relevant research. Putting all of that together, in the service of such important work, is deeply satisfying.

What theory is FLASH based on?

FLASH is based on the Theory of Planned Behavior and on the work published in Emerging Answers, detailing the risks and protective factors associated with pregnancy and STDs among young people. The sexual violence lessons are additionally based on the Confluence Theory and the CDC'S risk factors for the perpetration of sexual violence. Finally, as a Public Health intervention, the entire curriculum utilizes a harm reduction framework.

FLASH is an incredibly popular curriculum in our state and across the country. How is FLASH different from other sexual health curricula?

FLASH is a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum designed for use in public school health classes. It is focused on the reduction of pregnancy, STDs and sexual violence among young people, as well as on increasing family communication about dating and sexual health, by changing behaviors related to those outcomes. Many other sexual health curricula share some of these characteristics; very few share all of them. Many textbook-based curricula are well matched to public school classrooms - the lessons are mapped to standards, are the appropriate length, and are easy to implement. However, they are focused primarily on knowledge instead of behavior change. There are many pregnancy and STD prevention curricula that have been proven to change behavior, but most are not designed for use in public school classrooms. They don't cover the required breadth of topics, aren't mapped to standards, and may require specialized training to implement. Finally, almost none of these curricula contain evidence-informed sexual violence prevention lessons nor are they as LGBTQ inclusive as FLASH. It's important for the field to have an array of sexual health education programs, well-tailored to the audience they are designed to serve. FLASH fills an important niche as a truly comprehensive, behavior-change focused curriculum designed for school classrooms.

Districts across Colorado are so excited about the impending release of the updated middle school FLASH curriculum. In general, what types of updates were made to the curriculum?

We are so excited about the Middle School release too! The MS curriculum was completely overhauled for this new edition. It contains 7 lessons designed to achieve the behavioral goals listed above. The lessons are interactive and focused on behavior change, and are aligned to the CDC and the FOSE sexual health education standards. Each lesson contains assessment questions, a warm-up and an exit ticket, and a family homework assignment. The lessons are designed to shift attitudes and build skills that support the prevention of pregnancy, STDs and sexual violence. We are especially proud of a new sexual orientation and gender identity lessons centered on the concept of developing pride in one's identity, a crucial developmental task for young adolescents.