Accurate sex education can change lives | OWL to be offered this fall

OWL is back and ready to help empower island youth.

The Island Reproductive Health Initiative is presenting “Our Whole Lives: Lifetime Sexuality Education” for middle school students this fall.

“This is the most important social justice work I will do in my lifetime,” said Suzanne Olson, who ran the program from 2011 to 2019 with Sandi Burt, MSW.

OWL was paused during the pandemic and has now been reinvigorated thanks to IRHI and coordinator Sara Farish. The curriculum, created by the Unitarian Universalist Association, is designed to help kids and adults make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior. It equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information in six subject areas: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health and society and culture.

Grounded in a holistic view of sexuality, OWL not only provides facts about anatomy and human development but also helps students clarify their values, build interpersonal skills and understand the emotional and social aspects of sexuality. It addresses topics that school programs do not have the time or resources to cover.

“The goal is for people to have a safe and happy lifelong sex life,” said Olson, during an informational meeting on May 20. “You learn what it means to be in a trusted relationship and engage in sexual behaviors that are healthy for where you are in your development.”

Olson noted that the OWL classes on Orcas are completely secular. According to the UUA website, “Honest, accurate information about sexuality changes lives. It dismantles stereotypes and assumptions, builds self-acceptance and self-esteem, fosters healthy relationships, improves decision-making, and has the potential to save lives. For these reasons and more, we are proud to offer Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive, lifespan sexuality education curriculum for use in both secular settings and faith communities.”

The middle school program is for grades 7-9 and includes 27 sessions held on Sunday evenings from 7-9 p.m. in Eastsound, beginning Oct. 6. The program has three overnight retreats and closes on Feb. 1. There are no classes on school holiday weekends. It is being funded by the Orcas Island Community Foundation GiveOrcas campaign.

OWL will be taught by certified instructors Olson, Farish, Megan Neal, Aliza Anderson-Diepenbrock, Israel Guilford, Chelsie Guilford and Megan Vock and will feature many guest speakers from the community. This past January, the facilitators underwent more than 22 hours of training, studying ethics and boundaries in sexuality education and the developmental psychology of middle and high school kids.

“This is huge for such a small island,” Olson said.

The 2024-25 session is open to 6 female-identifying and 6 male-identifying people. Enrollment is by application, available on the IRHI website at or by emailing There is a sliding scale to participate and no one will be turned away for lack of financial resources. Another open house is scheduled for September.

IRHI hopes to offer more cohorts, for all ages. Looking back at previous classes, Olson noted that it’s a life-changing and fun experience for students.

“We had an amazing record of no absentees. Kids really want to go once they get started,” she said. “It’s a safe container and there is trust among everyone doing all the sessions.”