‘Love Notes’ Virtual Program from Hoyleton Youth & Family Services to Help Teens Develop Healthy Relationships

Hoyleton Youth & Family Services, based in Fairview Heights, Ill., has been partnering with area schools since September to bring the “Love Notes” evidence-based healthy relationship curriculum to teens. This April and May, it launches “Love Notes” as a 14-week virtual program aimed at teens age 14-19 whose schools have not been able to participate in the program this year. “Love Notes” is offered to all of St. Clair County (Ill.) teens at no charge. Facilitated by Shannon Boyer, one of Hoyleton’s prevention specialists, the course will provide medically accurate and evidence-based information around healthy relationships and sexual wellness.

Boyer says the pandemic has created opportunities for new approaches to education. “Over the past year, we have had some wonderful school districts that have found ways to move to virtual platforms with us, but we wanted to provide the curriculum to youth whose districts may not have had the ability to host us this year,” Boyer says. “Offering our programming to the broader community through an online platform is a new adventure for us, but we’re excited to work with youth and explore how we can learn together online.”

The Love Notes curriculum includes a balance of instruction, discussion, games and introspective activities, says Boyer. “The approach is very skills-based, and is rooted in a positive youth development approach. Youth are active participants in each session — sharing their opinions, asking questions, playing games, working in small groups, and sometimes even contributing their own experiences to the conversation. It is a wonderful opportunity for youth to connect with one another, learn from each other, and gain valuable knowledge that will help them make proud decisions about relationships and sex.”

In addition to teaching about relationships, the curriculum also provides participants with practice in building and maintaining trust, collaborating, and respecting boundaries. The curriculum covers relationships today, knowing one’s self, expectations, attractions and starting relationships, principles of health relationships, preventing abuse and violence, making decisions about sex and relationships, and communication in relationships. It also covers sex, values, and intimacy; pregnancy, STIs, and HIV; and parenting and caregiving.

“Youth will come away from the curriculum with knowledge about healthy relationship dynamics, what they want for their relationships and future, and how to identify and prevent abuse and violence,” says Boyer. “They will learn what risks may come with sexual activity, and how to manage those risks … and they will likely learn about themselves along the way.”

An additional feature of the program is an “anonymous question box,” that all participants can use at any point during the 14 weeks. The box provides youth with an “opportunity to ask any questions they’d like about the material without their identity attached to the question,” she says, “and ensures that the youth get the information they need regarding relationships and sexual activity.”

The program also helps teens process the large amount of information they are able to access in today’s society. “Adolescence can be extremely difficult to navigate, and the curriculum along with group discussions offer information and varying perspectives,” says Boyer.

One benefit is that many youth will realize that many of the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing are the same as those experienced by their peers.

“Today’s youth are growing up in a digital world where they have access to mountains of information, and it can be overwhelming to sort through that and know what is accurate,” Boyer adds. “Program participants will have their questions answered in a safe and comfortable setting [and] will have a space for reflection and … the opportunity to consider what they value in future relationships.”

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