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The Detroit News July 14, 2007

Mom Arranges Statewide Sex-Ed Lessons for Parents

Farmington Hills woman coordinates program to help them discuss the topic with their middle school kids. By Kendra Snyder

If someone had said, ‘Barb, what do you want to do in the future?’ I couldn’t have written this,” says Barb Flis, appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm as coordinator of the Talk Early & Talk Often℠ program.

FARMINGTON HILLS, MICHIGAN – Like most parents, Barb Flis was embarrassed to talk about sex with her children. Now, the Farmington Hills resident is teaching other parents how to do it. “Think about your kid, and if you don’t have that conversation, you’re leaving them unarmed,” she said.

Flis recently was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to coordinate the Talk Early, Talk Often℠ program, which aims to make parents of middle school students more comfortable discussing sex with their children.

Starting this fall, the pilot program will send facilitators across the state to conduct 60 free, 90-minute workshops.

For Flis, 52, a mother of two, it’s a program she never envisioned leading.

“If someone had said, ‘Barb, what do you want to do in the future?’ I couldn’t have written this,” she said.

The key of the program is to teach parents to stay calm and listen to their children’s questions and concerns about sex, Flis said.

The workshops, which use role-playing, will put participants in groups of three, with one acting as the child, one as the parent and the third as an observer.

“When a child asks, ‘Mom, can I get pregnant the first time I have sex?’ the natural thing for a parent is their alarm goes off,” Flis said.

“What we really want to do is hit the snooze and probe into their question. We want the parents to say, ‘That’s an interesting question, why would you ask that?’ If your alarm clock goes off, the child’s not going to want to ask that question, or anything like it, again.”

Troy parent Lynn Hipp’s three daughters already have been through the Troy school district’s sex education program. But Hipp said she would have felt more comfortable if the parent program was available when her children were young.

“It would have been nice to have something, so you don’t feel so like, ‘Gee, what do I say now,’ ” she said, adding that there’s still the need for school sex education programs because “sometimes, (children) don’t listen to parents.”

Flis said the goal is to attract at least 1,500 parents to the workshops, but she hopes the number will be closer to 3,000.

The governor’s program falls in line with the position of the National Parent-Teacher Association, which has its own initiative encouraging parents to start early with sex education.

“It’s something needed,” said National PTA spokesman James Martinez. “The well- being of children is primarily the responsibility of the home.”

Flis became interested in children’s health issues in the late 1980s, when her two daughters were in elementary school in Northville. Her involvement with school sex education started when her oldest daughter, now 25, was in middle school.

“I thought it wouldn’t be a bad thing to learn about this,” Flis said. Through the education department, she’s held sex education workshops for parents since 1999 to explain sex education taught in the classroom and how to address the topic at home.

But Flis said she wasn’t always public speaker material.

“I was an observer for so many years,” she said. “When you’re not holding Ph.D. degrees and you don’t feel qualified, you don’t always speak. It took me a long time to find my voice.

“I thought, ‘are you going to overcome this discomfort, or are you going to be inhibitive and not talk about it?’ ”

Flis chose to talk.

“Our babies don’t keep,” Flis said. “That’s the difference in attitude between parents and everyone else. We want them to have it now, because they don’t get to repeat being 7, or being 13.”

You can reach Kendra Snyder at or

Action for Healthy Kids® May 2007 newsletter

A Conversation with Barb Flis Michigan Team Member Works to Engage Parents

Barb Flis is passionate about engaging parents to make a difference. As founder of Parent Action for Healthy Kids, she is channeling her passion to connect parents, communities and schools in Michigan to improve the health and wellbeing of children. Barb believes parents are the most powerful champions of children. Through her work, she helps parents understand how to communicate to schools about what is important to them and how they can help. As a mother of two daughters, both of whom are now adults, Barb recalls being a parent of school-aged children and seeing both sides of the coin – parents’ frustrations and the challenges schools face to implement changes. Given this disconnect, Barb wanted to bridge this gap of how information is delivered and communicated to parents, and to do it in a meaningful way.

Too often, Barb has seen school districts go on the offense when parents voice concerns. Her efforts focus on building relationships and trust between parents and schools because parents should be part of the process and the solution. Barb believes that Wellness Policies are critical to understanding that both schools and parents want the same thing – to provide what is best for children. With the emergence of Local Wellness Policies, parents are more engaged with schools because of their interest in the health of their children.
Barb cites her grassroots PTA involvement as the turning point which led to serving on an expert panel for the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for Family and Community Involvement in Health, Mental Health and Safety in Schools. In addition to leading Parent Action for Healthy Kids, Barb serves as co-chair of the Michigan Surgeon General’s Michigan Steps Up Campaign, and was appointed in 2005 by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to coordinate the Talk Early & Talk Often℠ initiative to help parents gain knowledge and skills to talk to their middle school children about abstinence and sexuality.
She was connected to the Michigan Action for Healthy Kids Team in 2002 when the Team learned about her work with parents for the Michigan Department of Education. She was asked to join the Team’s steering committee as a parent advocate of the Eat Healthy, Play Hard conference, and has since stayed involved with the Michigan Team. This year, Barb is conducting a series of 10 workshops to engage parents in school wellness, made possible by a grant awarded to the Michigan Department of Education through the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to Barb, parents don’t need research to understand why changes in school wellness are necessary because, “they already know their kids need time to eat and time to run.” She cites an example of an elementary school parent who wanted to increase the 30 minutes of time provided for recess and lunch. After creating a pie chart, the parent articulated to the school board that the 30 minutes provided, only afforded students 4 minutes to eat their lunch, and more time was needed.
When it comes to engaging parents, Barb’s approach is simple and direct – “Here’s the problem, this is how we got here, let’s understand the circumstances without playing the blame game, and agree on solutions that both parents and schools can be a part of.” At each workshop, which also involves school principals and food service personnel, she encourages parents to think of an action step to take as a result of their participation. It starts by developing a ‘mini’ action plan. But, she cautions parents to not set their goals too high. “Progress begins by taking small steps, and parents often don’t realize they are already doing small things in their children’s lives that can have impact,” she says. Such as the parent who created a pie chart to demonstrate that children weren’t provided enough time to eat lunch in school.
Parents can initially take simple steps to become more involved in school wellness. Barb encourages parents to better understand the Wellness Policy of their child’s school; to eliminate using food as a reward; to work with sports teams to provide healthier snacks; and to substitute junk food with more nutritious foods at children’s birthday parties in school. Eventually, parents can play a role in leading to more sustainable changes such as advocating for physical education in schools. Barb reminds parents that, “the blame cannot lie with schools as long as Wellness Policy is an unfunded mandate.”
School staff members also play a role in encouraging children to make healthier choices by leading by example, such as providing more nutritious food at staff meetings. Teachers are a source of influence to children and there is an opportunity to make positive decisions when it comes to nutrition. Barb offers the example of children seeing teachers smoke, before schools instituted non-smoking policies. Barb encourages teachers to not walk into the classroom with a can of soda but rather to pour the beverage in a mug so children are not influenced by a daily soda habit.
Barb credits the tools and resources provided by the Michigan Action for Healthy Kids Team to contributing to the effectiveness of her workshops, specifically Tips and Tools for Physical Activity and Tips and Tools for Healthy Foods and Beverages. Based on her experience, she emphasizes that tools should be created at the state level so local schools that don’t have the time to develop materials, can focus their time on engaging parents.
The success stories of parents are what keep Barb inspired. Given her enthusiasm and dedication, it’s easy to understand the impact of her work with parents.
Action for Healthy Kids® May 2007 newsletter July 6, 2005

Talk Early & Talk℠ Often Program: Unveiling of the Blueprint for Preventing Unintended Pregnancies

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm unveiled the Blueprint for Preventing Unintended Pregnancies on July 6, 2005. Governor Granholm was joined by Surgeon General Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom and Barbara Flis in announcing the program.This new initiative includes the pilot program, “Talk Early & Talk Often℠,” a program focused on giving parents resources with which to address abstinence and sexuality issues with middle school-age children.

The initiative focuses on parents as the primary sex educators and suggests that parents armed with information and the communication tools they need may help prevent early and unintended pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases by providing messages that help children abstain from sexual intercourse.

Working with the Michigan Parent Teacher Student Association (MPTSA), who assisted in the creation of the program, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) will share the pilot with parents at school district-sponsored meetings in the fall.

In order to curb Medicaid spending on pregnancy-related and medical care for newborns, and an estimated $11,528 for delivery and first year of life, the MDCH has submitted a request to obtain federal approval for a waiver which will make family planning services for low-income families more accessible.

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