Data Collection Formal interviews School personnel and one or both parents participated in one in-depth interview. Interviews lasted on average one hour and were audio-taped. The interview guide used with school personnel was designed to elicit their perceptions of sexual risk behaviors among Latino adolescents, opportunities and constraints Latino students encountered in school, and quality and context of communication with Latino parents.
School personnel were interviewed during a free period in a private room at the school. Of the 18 parents, 12 parents six couples chose to be interviewed as a couple, only the mothers of two couples were interviewed, and four single mothers were interviewed. Parents were interviewed in their homes. The interview guide used with the parents was designed to elicit their perceptions of sexual risk among adolescents and its connection to migration, culture, and gender norms interview guides are available upon request.
The first author was present 1—2 days each week in various locations within the school i. Homes visits were made to observe family dynamics and neighborhood characteristics that might have a bearing on understanding influences on sexual risk behavior.
General Statute C; C —provided information about school regulations regarding sexual behavior. In addition, high school yearbooks were reviewed to develop a deeper understanding of the school context and the place of Latino students in it. Finally, local newspaper articles covering events at the school and in the Latino community supplemented field notes. Using a digital voice recorder and transcription software, the first author transcribed all interviews, translating the Spanish-language interviews directly into English.
In the second round of transcript review, three Spanish speakers were consulted on unfamiliar phrases. In the third round of transcript review, a Spanish speaker checked each English-translated transcript with the Spanish audio-taped interview for accuracy of meaning.
Field notes and documents were organized by participant, data source e. Strategies to optimize descriptive and interpretive validity Maxwell, of findings included proofing of interview transcripts against audio-tapes, completing field notes soon after observations were conducted, and within-interview participant validation via probing and clarifying questions with parents and school personnel.
Opportunities for Engaging in Sexual Risk Behaviors The school environment provided a place for intimate physical contact with little supervision.
As the bell signaled the change of classes, hundreds of students flooded the hallways. Displays of intimate behavior were masked among the crowds, making sexual encounters difficult to monitor or control. Although teachers monitored the hallways just outside their classroom door during the change of classes, other hallways in the school had long stretches with no doorways or windows and were devoid of supervision.
They teachers told me that they would catch her in the high school hall a lot. This teacher placed these problems in the context of the school structure as follows: Well, she was in the 8th grade and he was in the 10th grade and they liked to kiss before going to every class.
And there was a suspension over that, because they were warned two times. School personnel reported a busy daily schedule that, in addition to teaching, included cafeteria duty, coaching, committee work, conferences, and advising.
On another day, a fight between two boys caused a serious head injury, and emergency medical technicians transported one of the boys to the hospital. As a result, sexual behaviors receded into the background of a school environment in which other behaviors warranted greater attention.
Still, teachers did notice these behaviors and their consequences. Their accounts of Latinas at sexual risk included girls living with boyfriends, girls who were pregnant, and girls who already had children. One of the teachers described an incident in which two Latino couples were discovered engaging in sexual intercourse in a car in the school parking lot. One of the mothers whose daughter was suspended for displaying intimate behavior at school described her concern: Then I left very mad and as I left I saw him jump out of the bedroom window!
She had her boyfriend inside her bedroom. Another time, the same thing happened. Impediments to Sex Education School personnel were aware of sexual risk behaviors but they did not have sufficient resources, preparation, or authority to address adolescent sexual health concerns. A guidance counselor described her reluctance in this way: I had one teacher come to me and say that a [Latino] student told her about a sexual experience she had over the weekend.
And the concern is - what do I do with this information? The gesture of covering her ears embodied the dilemma school staff had in talking about adolescent sexuality. Parents joined staff members in their reluctance and embarrassment to discuss teen sex. She asks me questions and although I am embarrassed, I try. I try to explain what I can. You have to be careful if you are with a boy.
If he grabs you and you are in his arms there are risks that you could become pregnant. Parents considered the school an authority not only in academic subjects but also in adolescent sexual health, which included monitoring and controlling sexual behaviors at school.
However, teachers routinely deferred those discussions to parents. I think that a Hispanic woman could possibly talk to a Hispanic child in a way that they would be more receptive.
I mean, I have a good relationship with my Hispanic students and can talk with them very easily, but as far as really connecting, sometimes I wonder if I do because there is that cultural barrier. When asked about frequency of communication with Latino parents, teachers reported infrequent communication due to language and work-related barriers. The majority of the parents reported communication was limited by a lack of transportation and translation services.
Cultural Confusion Regarding Norms and Stereotypes According to the Student Behavior Guidelines, displays of affection, with the exception of holding hands, were strictly prohibited. The dress code policy was equally restrictive. The policy prohibited skirts three inches above the knee; dresses or tops exposing the shoulders, midriff, or armpits; and any exposure of breasts, bras, or cleavage N.
There was no mention of male body parts in the policy. School personnel noted that some 14 and 15 year-old Latina girls were in middle school as a result of late arrival to the US and limited English proficiency. These girls were more physically mature and exhibited an interest in boys compared to the traditional 11 and year old students. One teacher noted this ambiguous position: They tend to be older than the other middle school girls.
I end up with teen-age girls in the middle school that we can hardly keep off the high school hallway. In the words of another teacher: Latina girls are much more sensual than the mainstream girls are.
I have more 7th and 8th grade girls who will dress more provocatively, shirts cut lower. What can you say when their mom comes in dressed just like that? Teachers struggled with either enforcing school regulations dress code or advocating for greater cultural sensitivity.
Yet, teachers were unsure about their understanding of Latino culture and therefore confused between cultural norms and stereotypes. You see that in all students, but I see it a little more with the Latinos.
When male teachers expressed concerns about young Latina girls dating older boys, one of the female teachers explained: That the woman stays home and takes care of the house and children.
More than one mother who had married young remarked of her teen-age daughter: There are young girls that are with boys that are 18 and 19 years old.
The girls are 14 years old. This scares me for my daughter. He described the following incident involving his daughter: Some boys came from another school and they waited outside in their car for them girls. She his daughter left the dance with these boys. Another limitation was that the sample of adolescents had twice as many girls as boys. Even so, school personnel who had equal contact with both Latino boys and girls, also focused on sexual risk among Latina girls.
Cultural stereotypes and mis understandings by school personnel left them questioning whether any action was warranted at all and if so, whose obligation it was to inform, monitor, and control sexually risky behaviors.
School personnel were often too busy to notice these behaviors or reluctant to respond when they did. The blurry line between cultural norms and stereotypes led some school staff to see a kind of sexual mystique around the behaviors and appearance of Latina girls. These staff depended on adolescents to interpret cultural norms and practices and admitted to limitations in their own cultural understanding.
Parents expected schools to provide information on sexual health because, in Mexico, sex education has been taught in the schools since the s Hirsch, Yet abstinence-only education has been school policy in NC for more than a decade Ito et al.
The national abstinence-only regulations, local school policies and school structure combined with a limited understanding of immigrant Latino family beliefs and values may have facilitated risky sexual behaviors among Latino youth.
Harmful and misleading stereotypes can be eliminated when community members contribute local knowledge to the research process.
The CDC and the U. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health have recently called for the replication of evidence-based sexual risk reduction programs CDC, In practice, we recommend teen-parent initiatives, which focus on developmental, gender and cultural issues, and engage the Latino community in decision-making regarding adolescent reproductive health.
Early preparation age 11 or 12 years for this cultural rite of passage may be an appropriate starting point for initiating sexual health dialogue between adolescents, parents, and health care professionals. Legislation in North Carolina now mandates comprehensive sexual health education in all public schools beginning in the 7th grade The Healthy Youth Act of This legislation also calls for the active involvement of parents and guardians in the implementation of sexual health programs.
These initiatives honor the central role of the family in the Latino culture while building community capacity. At the community level, the Center for International Understanding in North Carolina offers training to teams of health, education, and business leaders to establish community action plans that integrate the immigrant Latino population. This community strategy should be expanded to include Latino parents who might share the nuances of immigrant life.
Language barriers and access to care continue to be major challenges for the immigrant Latino population and community action plans should address those issues in relation to adolescent sexual health. After a decade of abstinence-only education in the public schools, teachers can benefit from the guidance of leaders in teen health, such as the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.
The Healthy Youth Act of should have gone into effect in the fall of but teachers were unprepared in this content and were given a grace period to receive essential training. Legislative mandates must go into effect so that adolescents can benefit from a full range of sexual health information.