Frequently Asked Questions About Pono Choices

What is the Pono Choices curriculum?

Pono Choices is a culturally responsive sexual health education program designed to provide young adolescents with the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and skills necessary to reduce their risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. This is achieved through a 10 module curriculum which is based upon theories of social learning, self–regulation and developmental asset theories in combination with researchers’ extensive experiential knowledge working with youth. The curriculum has been developed through an approach which incorporates medically accurate information, character education, and a strong focus on Hawaiian cultural values. Students are introduced to Hawaiian cultural terms and practices that stress positive character development and making pono or “morally right” choices.

What are the curriculum’s goals?

The overarching goals for Pono Choices are to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and incidences of STIs; increase positive bonding in the school and community; increase sense of self-identity and self-efficacy; and improve students’ expectations for the future.

Why do we need Pono Choices?

Hawai‘i’s teen pregnancy rate is 93 pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 15-19. This rate is higher than the national rate of 84 pregnancies per 1,000. Only nine states have higher rates of teenage pregnancy. Additionally, STIs and HIV/AIDS are a major concern among youth in Hawai‘i. Therefore, sexual health education curricula like Pono Choices are needed in order to equip youth with the skills they need to make good-decisions about sexual behavior and contraception. Because Pono Choices was designed to be “culturally responsive,” it will also take into account the unique experiences that youth in Hawai‘i are facing.

What are the major components of the curriculum?

The Pono Choices curriculum has three major components. The first component focuses on goals, dreams and adolescent sexuality. The second component focuses on knowledge, including information about the etiology, transmission, and prevention of HIV, STDs, and teenage pregnancy. It also covers beliefs and attitudes about abstinence, HIV, STD’s, and pregnancy. The third component focuses on skills and self-efficacy, covering negotiation and refusal skills, and providing time for practice, reinforcement, and support.

Who can participate in the Pono Choices Curriculum?

Pono Choices Curriculum was designed for 7th and 8th grade students in middle school health classes. It can be used in classes with larger amounts of youth, such as a combination of 7th and 8th grade classes. It can be used in a variety of community settings, including schools or youth-serving agencies.

When might my child receive Pono Choices?

Most likely when they are ages 11-13, as those trained to deliver the curriculum have been trained to deliver it to middle school aged youth.  No elementary or high school versions of Pono Choices have been developed.

What is Pono Choices definition of sex?

Sex, in the Pono Choices curriculum is defined as:

  • Vaginal Sex: penis enters vagina, and
  • Anal Sex: penis enters anus.
  • Oral Sex: mouth on genital area. (genital areas include the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, anus),

Sex is defined as such because this is how sexually transmitted infections are transmitted.

Is Pono Choices curriculum medically accurate?

Pono Choices Curriculum uses Medically Accurate-Definitions of Terms in accordance with HI HRS 321-11.1.

Is Pono Choices a Hawai‘i Department of Education (DOE) approved curriculum?

The Pono Choices program is on the DOE approved curricula list for grades 6-8 and meets the DOE criteria for an abstinence-based sexual health education program.

What is the DOE abstinence-based policy?

Approved in September 1995, Hawai‘i DOE Policy 2110 reads…
In order to help students make decisions that promote healthy behaviors, the Department of Education shall instruct students that abstention from sexual intercourse is the surest and most responsible way to prevent unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and consequent emotional distress. The abstinence-based education program shall:

  1. support abstention from sexual intercourse and provide skill development to continue abstention;
  2. help youth who have had sexual intercourse to abstain from further sexual intercourse until an appropriate time; and
  3. provide youth with information on and skill development in the use of protective devices and methods for the purpose of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

How is abstinence defined in the curriculum?

In order for abstinence to be 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and STIs, in the curriculum abstinence is defined as:

  • no vaginal, anal or oral sex (no sex),
  • no sexual contact,
  • no needle sharing, and
  • no drugs or alcohol.

Note: The entire curriculum has been reviewed for medical accuracy by the federal Office of Adolescent Health, and “sex” is defined as vaginal, anal, or oral because this is how pregnancy and STI transmission can occur. Through this definition students begin to understand what it means to be abstinent and are clear on how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STIs.

What is the advantage of using the Pono Choices curriculum?

Pono Choices is a teen pregnancy and STI prevention curriculum that is on the Hawai‘i DOE approved list of sexual health curricula. It provides youth medically accurate information within a Hawaiian place-based framework. Pono Choices works from a pedagogy that believes student engagement through role play and skill demonstration is essential. A key component unique to the curriculum is the use of cultural referents, Hawaiian practices, and connection and engagement activities involving ‘ohana and intended to encourage child and family communication about the learning that is taking place. The curriculum is an inclusive, medically accurate, locally developed, culturally responsive curriculum that has been reviewed by both the federal Office of Adolescent Health and the Hawai‘i DOE and aligns with Hawai‘i DOE abstinence-based policy and middle school sexual health benchmarks.

How is Pono Choices a culturally responsive curriculum?

The Pono Choices curriculum draws upon place-based theoretical foundations using the Hawaiian culture as the host culture. Many studies have shown that this kind of “culturally responsive” teaching approach can better engage students and support their learning because it is relevant to their lives and fosters a trusting relationship with students and families. Additionally, the Native Hawaiian Education Council (2002) recommends that one of the key guidelines for Hawaiian educational success is to strengthen and sustain Native Hawaiian cultural identity and to support the learning, use, and understanding of the Hawaiian language, culture, history, heritage, traditions, and values. Pono Choices introduces Hawaiian cultural terms and practices that stress positive character development and making pono or “morally right” choices. Learn more about Pono Choices Culturally Responsive Curriculum

How is Pono Choices an inclusive curriculum?

Pono Choices is an inclusive curriculum that provides both same sex and different sex examples. Activities focus on the behaviors of the individuals in the examples, regardless of their gender. The curriculum teaches that you can get an STI from anyone, regardless of their gender and your gender.

Why is there a condom demonstration?

Learning the pregnancy and STI prevention skill of correct use of a condom meets the Hawai‘i DOE abstinence-based policy that states programs shall “provide youth with information on and skill development in the use of protective devices and methods for the purpose of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.” Many middle school students may not have health education again until 10th grade, and for some students learning this information at that point is too late to prevent possible negative outcomes of sexual activity.

What is a Pono Choices Parent Night?

Each delivery of the Pono Choices curriculum starts with a parent night. Teachers send home letters to parents and guardians informing them that they will be starting the curriculum and invite parents to learn about the program. Although the federal Office of Adolescent Health and the Hawai‘i DOE consider the curriculum age-appropriate, we encourage parents and ‘ohana members to attend parent night to learn about the curriculum so they can make an informed decision.


The Pono Choices Project was made possible by Grant Number TP2AH000017 from the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health (OAH). The content of this website does not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or OAH.