innovation Research & Training (iRT), a behavioral sciences research company, today announced its receipt of a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). iRT researchers will use the grant to develop the Media Aware program, a web-based course for high school students designed to promote sexual and relationship health.

This type of self-paced course is greatly needed, because less than half of school districts in the United States provide funding for the professional development of high school teachers on the topic of sexual health. Lack of training results in teachers being unprepared to teach the complex scientific and health issues involved in sex education, and increasing the chances that teachers will convey medically inaccurate information or their own biases about sexual health topics. Furthermore, 33 states and DC mandate some form of sex education; however, only 19 of these states require that the content that is taught to students in sex education be medically, factually, or technically accurate. These lax requirements provide further evidence for the need for medically accurate educational resources that can be directly delivered to high school students.

The goal of the Media Aware program will be to help students make healthy decisions about romantic relationships and sexual activity. “The rates of HIV/AIDS, other STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and dating violence among adolescents indicate the need for evidence-based, medically-accurate, comprehensive sexual health education,” said Dr. Janis Kupersmidt, President of iRT. “This high school program will build upon our previous successes developing effective and comprehensive sexual health promotion programs for middle school and college students that have resulted in their reports of engaging in healthier and less risky behaviors,” she said.

The Media Aware program will approach sexual health education by encouraging critical thinking about how sexual activity and romantic relationships are portrayed in media messages that are popular with teens. Dr. Tracy Scull, the Principal Investigator on this award noted that “when parents and teachers are silent or punitive in the face of questions about sexual health, young people often turn to the media for information. Unfortunately, many media messages about sex and relationships are inaccurate and unhealthy.” Risky sexual practices, like frequent or sexual relationships with unfamiliar partners, are much more commonly seen in media messages as compared to topics like contraception and STI testing. She and her team will design the Media Aware program to address this imbalance and teach sexual health topics in a way that motivates and informs students. A benefit of the program being self-paced and web-based is that it allows students to receive sexual health education that is unbiased and based upon medically-accurate information in a format that reduces embarrassment for the learner. Once developed, the program will be available for sale to schools and programs that serve high school-aged youth.

About innovation Research & Training

innovation Research & Training (iRT) is a behavioral sciences research company committed to identifying and solving significant real-world problems facing children, families, communities, and organizations. By applying scientific theories, findings, and methods, iRT researchers develop and evaluate behavioral, educational, psychological, social, and community assessment, prevention and treatment programs, and services. Its staff includes experts in basic and applied psychology in the areas of substance abuse prevention and treatment, youth mentoring, social and emotional learning, mindfulness education, media literacy education, pregnancy prevention and sexual health promotion, child and adolescent mental health, adult and juvenile justice programs. For more information about iRT, visit

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innovation Research & Training