Most girls in the Best Friends abstinence program do not have sexual intercourse or use illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, according to the latest survey of more than 2,600 girls.
Ninety-seven percent of Best Friends girls said they had not had sex during the 1998-1999 school year - a finding consistent with previous surveys.
This compares with national teen sexual activity studies, which in 1997 found that 48 percent of high school students have had sex.
In the Washington area, which has the highest rate of teen births in the nation, Best Friends girls are also significantly more abstinent. The 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 30.3 percent of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade girls attending D.C. public schools had had sex. Only 6.7 percent of Best Friends girls had had sex, even though they were in the same grades in the same schools.
Best Friends' successes stem from its holistic approach, researcher Stan Weed told a recent training session for Best Friends program leaders.
"Best Friends doesn't zero in on one problem and ignore the others," Mr. Weed said. "It deals with many risks simultaneously."
The program emphasizes "the joys of the preteen and teen-age years" free of the complications of sexual activity, said Elayne Bennett, the program's president and founder. "We tell the girls, `You will succeed in life if you set your goals and maintain your self-respect.' "
Best Friends, founded in 1987, is an in-school, curriculum-based program for girls in the fifth to eighth grades. Teens learn about self-respect and self-restraint through classroom sessions, dance and exercise classes and regular meetings with mentors. …