By: Katie Sobiech
Watch out, because “CATS” (Concerned About Teen Success) may be coming soon to a school near you, and the classroom will never be the same!
CATS allows teens to educate their peers concerning current issues and relevant topics.
“We began mostly looking at avoiding sexual activity before marriage, avoiding alcohol and drug use, but as we’ve grown we’re also developing leadership in the teens in the program,” Cheryl Biddle, Founder of CATS , said.
CATS inspires middle and high school students to reach for their goals by making healthy decisions. Their core philosophy is based on five character qualities including: Respect, Responsibility, Courage, Honesty and Self Control.
“Everything we do is based on those character qualities,” Biddle said.
Using creativity, talent and hilarity is key, Biddle says, when dealing with such heavy matters.
Texting, ‘sexting’ and dating abuse are also topics not off limits.
“We thought we really needed to use the power of peers to bring attention to the risks that are involved in that,” Biddle said.
Promoting Safe, Healthy Lifestyles
“What we do is take our message of health and responsibility into the classroom,” Biddle said. “We really want to saturate our community with the concept of waiting for sex, and the concept of marriage.”
She says that locally kids are reporting abstinence agreement in huge numbers following CATS visits.
They teach approximately 25,000 students a year in their four-county area. This includes 35 different High Schools.
Backed by Parents
Parents, as well as teens, are extremely thankful for this program.
Sheila Fisher, a mother whose two out of three children are in the program shared, “In ninth grade we call (the girls) freshmen, but the boys really look at them as fresh meat. New people coming in are new targets, new notches in a bedpost and their belts.”
“I thank Cheryl for the CATS program. Not all kids have parents who will talk to them about abstinence, drugs and alcohol, so having an avenue to do that is so important. Me talking to them alone is one thing, but for kids to hear it from other kids, I think it’s more profound,” Fisher said.
Biddle encourages engaging parents to a greater extent.
“Be the parent,” she said, “Set some guidelines, be informed and be compassionate because it’s hard to be a kid now-a-days. But give them the guidelines that they need, and really and truly, they want.”
For Teens, by Teens
The teens involved in the CATS program mold it, shape it and make it their own.
“The more ownership they have, the better,” Biddle said.
They develop talks, skits, songs, and create game shows and interaction.
“They engage their peers and point out the pitfalls, and then show them the positives (of not getting involved in unhealthy lifestyles), because there are a lot of positives in making healthy decisions,” Biddle said.
Seven to eight teens go into a classroom at a time, exploring a variety of different topics. Some of these have included STD’s, dating, and teen pregnancy. The newest addition has been a pretty popular PowerPoint on texting.
“The kids really tune into that,” Biddle said, “There’s always a collage of topics.”
Continuum of Services
CATS visits students from 6th through 10th grade in order to reinforce what they’ve been taught in prior years.
“It’s a continuum of the education piece because we know that there’s all kinds of negative messages that just grasp their attention all of the time,” Biddle explained.
And students always have the opportunity to give feedback.
Fifteen schools are represented as having students within the CATS program, creating a diverse mixture of teens all with one purpose.
“It’s cool to see kids from all walks of life and all kinds of schools working together on this project,” Biddle said.
A Second Chance at Life
“We try to offer them information and solutions in a non-judgmental way,” Biddle explained.
CATS realizes that youth make mistakes, and because of this, reinforces the fact that they have a second chance to create new standards and walk in a new direction.
“We all make mistakes and if that happens we tell them to stop the risky behavior, whether it’s premarital sex, going to parties, using alcohol or smoking weed, whatever it is, the smart thing to do is stop and start over,” Biddle said.
Sierra Stallwoith, a member of CATS, shares “I got involved because I believe in abstinence and was kind of getting in a lot of trouble with boys and stuff.”
Though she’s made some mistakes in her past, her faith led her on a new path. She now shares with teens why they should wait.
“I feel (this message) is important because there really is a race going on. It’s really bad, it’s crazy. They’re definitely forward and I walk through the hallways and see them cuddled up in the corner kissing. It’s pretty bad,” Stallwoith said.
“Sierra did have a lot of problems with boys,” her mother, Fisher, said, “She’s a very attractive young lady, but CATS set a foundation that really helped her. It keeps her accountable.”
The Middle/High School Bubble
These days, High school and Middle school is almost an entirely different culture in itself.
“I was really shocked as a parent how forward the boys were, and not just the boys, but girls too. I couldn’t believe some of the stories my daughter told me of what’s going on in the 9th grade,” Fisher said.
Having teens who know what is going on inside of these walls who go in speaking the same language as the students, has proven to be a success.
Stallwoith shares the truth with her peers, telling them “If you have sex before marriage, the younger you start, the more partners you’ll probably have and the more chances you’ll get pregnant or STD’s.”
“There’s already enough pressure in High School. You worry about your grades and stuff. Why add something else to worry about?” she said, making a great point.
When asked how this program will help her in the future, Stallwoith responded, “I’ll be saved for marriage.”
“We are relevant and truthful, and the truth is going to make a difference in their lives,” Biddle said.
For more information on this please visit http://www.all4youth.org or call 330.864.1359