Former Teen Mom Explains Why She Spoke Out About Worcester Sex Ed Curriculum

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Shanel Soucy says school officials seeking to implement a new sex education curriculum in Worcester public schools have missed the point when it comes to teen-age sexual behavior.

She spoke out passionately during a meeting of the Worcester School Committee’s Standing Committee on Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meeting last week, drawing on her own past experiences as a teen-age mother.

“I can tell you as a teen mom that it was not the lack of sex education that caused me to get pregnant at 14. It was the disparities within my culture,” Soucy told the subcommittee Monday, April 26 “Growing up in poverty, chaos, dysfunction, and without a father left me in a place of brokenness and uncertainty in who I was, and I began looking for love in all the wrong places.”

(NewBostonPost has published an audio clip and a complete transcript of her remarks.)

Soucy, 39, is a half black and half white. She is a lifelong Worcester resident, home owner, and a union electrician who also holds a master barber license.

Life was much harder when she was young. She grew up in a single-parent home, poor. At 14, she gave birth to a son. He’s 24 now.

Soucy told NewBostonPost in a telephone interview this week that her life experiences are what drove her to speak out against the sex education curriculum Rights, Respect, Responsibility, published by Advocates for Youth.

“I myself come from the exact situation that the school committee is inferring they’re trying to help,” Soucy said. “They’re saying they want to help these people with high STD and teen pregnancy rates. By life experience, I am that person. I feel like they’re completely missing the mark. They’re not focused on how that actually happens — they’re focused on something that has nothing to do with how young girls and boys end up in those situations.” 

As for her background, Soucy said that she thinks that her perspective on the matter could help change the way people view the issue.

“It’s important to note I didn’t get to where I am on my own,” she said. “Strong relationships, social development, support, those were the things that helped me come out of poverty to have the life I do today. I am a homeowner as a single parent. My 24-year-old has beaten the odds. He hasn’t been incarcerated. He didn’t have children as a teen-ager. It took a lot of effort from people in the community who engaged with us and supported us along the way.”

Soucy, who is running for school committee in Worcester in the city elections later this year, said at-risk youth would be harmed, not helped, by the proposed sex ed curriculum, and that it wouldn’t reduce rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“There needs to be more focus on the social development aspect of the kids,” she said. “Families are important and by some of these sex ed advocates’ own admission, they call single-parent households high risk and two-parent households protective. The high-risk families are the ones with higher rates of STDs and teen pregnancies. The sex education is not the issue, it’s the family component. 

“So how do we better re-create that and support that?” she said. “We need to bring that component around them be it through teacher training, childhood emotional and social skill development.”

On Wednesday night, a day after talking with NewBostonPost, Soucy appeared on the radio with WBZ talk show host Dan Rea. She told Rea that she’s not opposed to sex education in schools. But the approach matters, she said.

“The message is what’s important, Dan,” she said. “So information is good and I think that biological information with regards to STDs, kids understanding how those are contracted and things like that, I think that information is great. And I think that sex education is important, but I think that the message that goes along with it is equally important and there’s language in this curriculum that’s just not appropriate.”

She also told Rea (whose show Nightside with Dan Rea broadcasts 8 p.m. to midnight weeknights on WBZ AM 1030) that public opinion in Worcester seems mostly opposed to the proposal and that if the school committee listens to the people, it should not pass.

“We’re just hoping that they’re listening and paying and attention,” Soucy said. “There’s a lot of buzz all over Facebook. Parents have been sharing the information and their concerns and the fact that they don’t want it. I’m hoping that they’re listening to the parents.”

Karina Roman-Wallace, like Soucy, is one of four organizers of a march to protest the proposed sex ed curriculum that took place Wednesday morning. She said the city could benefit from Soucy.

“I’m so happy to have met her and I am so happy that she’s running because we need a voice like hers,” Roman-Wallace said in a telephone interview. “It wasn’t the lack of sex education that made her a teen parent, it was other things. She’s a voice for parents and she has some values that align with many parents. That’s the problem; they’re trying to go against our values in the school system.”

Father Jonathan J. Slavinskas, pastor of St. Bernard’s Church of Our Lady of Providence Parish in Worcester, said he is happy to see Soucy taking an active role in the community.

“I think it’s great to see more members of the community in Worcester engaging in politics, it brings about fresh ideas and engagement perhaps with a broader viewpoint,” Father Slavinskas told NewBostonPost in an email message. “I was happy to hear that Shanel was looking to engage in the community in a new way by running for School Committee. She knows the city and the concerns of many within the community because she comes from the community.

“She has a great care, especially for the young people of our city,” he continued. “The care extends beyond just simply an intellectual component; she focuses on other fundamental pillars that challenges youth to grow as human persons especially in areas of morality and a service to others. I appreciate Shanel’s ability to engage in authentic dialogue with all members of the community.”

The preliminary municipal election for Worcester, which is nonpartisan, is scheduled for September 14. The municipal election is set for November 2.

Six seats on the seven-member school committee are available every two years. The mayor occupies a seventh seat and serves as chairman. Soucy is currently one of 10 candidates who have taken out nomination papers, according to the Worcester City Clerk’s office.


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