Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We are all potential acitvists

Dear students,

Remember that you are the ones with the most information about what's going on in your lives and what you need. If you need better health education, speak up and ask for it. You told me that you felt sad and angry that the school committee had cut health class. You told me that you need to learn this health information, that you liked having a space to share your feelings and that you wanted more opportunities to ask your burning questions.

You deserve a health class, but you might need to fight for it. I'm not there to help you, but I do have some suggestions:

1. Start gathering your stories. Why do you need and want health class? Find examples from your experience this past year to show how health class helps you.

2. Work together. Share ideas, and encourage each other. Use the resources you always use to connect with your peers -- the Internet, text messages, and gatherings at the mall or the park, for example.

3. Reach out to adults! They are the voters, the taxpayers, the ones with political power who are supposed to have your best interests in mind. Make sure they understand how you feel. Show them how health education gives you what they want for you. Get adults talking with each other, too.

4. Contact the press -- the local papers, in print and online, are major venues for debates about public education. Use them to make your voice heard.

5. Convince the school committee. The school committee consists of elected adults from your city. It's their decision, ultimately. Show them what you want and why you want it, and make them work for you the way they are supposed to.

To my students and to teenagers everywhere: Fight for the information, resources and support that you need in order to take great care of your health.

I believe in you.

With hope,

Ms. Arbeit

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Letter to my Students

To my dear students,

I'm not coming back to teach health next year. In fact, you won't have health class next year the way you have it this year. Your city government decided they can't give the schools the money needed to keep everything like it is now. Faced with the need to make cuts, the school committee decided not to have health teachers in the schools anymore. Instead, physical education teachers will teach about health in gym class. I'm not quite sure what that will be like or what they will teach.

I really wish that you could still have health class next year. I'm worried that you won't get the health education you deserve; I'm scared that without this education you won't have the knowledge, skills and attitude that you need to take care of yourself. I'm angry at the school committee for taking away health class because I believe in the value of learning about and talking about our health. I'm frustrated that not many members of our community are fighting for your right to in-depth health education. I'm also very sad that I won't personally get to teach you next year -- I'll miss you!

How can I inspire you to continue educating yourselves about health? Who will you go to with your questions? How will you figure out the difference between the myths and truths you come across? What will you do when puberty becomes overwhelming, confusing and frightening? What will you think and feel as you come face to face with desire, pressure and risk?

I want you to understand that health isn't something that you have, it's something that you do. Living a healthful life is a constant process that you are just beginning. You will continue that process in physical education next year, and you must also continue on your own, both during and after middle school. I hope that you keep practicing all the amazing healthy behaviors you have impressed me with this year. Remember my goals for you: (1) love and respect your body; (2) express your emotions; and (3) build relationships based on open and honest communication.

If you start to feel that all this is too much or too hard, you're not alone. The process of living a healthful life does not start and end with you in isolation -- in order for us all to be truly healthy, we need to make some changes in our society. Your awareness and acceptance of your own needs, your hunger for accurate information, and your courage to ask questions will help you figure out what changes you need. Then, make yourselves heard. Make demands. In order for us all to be the healthiest and happiest people we can possibly be, we need a lot of change. We need you to make that change.

Love always,
Ms. Arbeit

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I should not teach gym, so why should they teach sex ed?

Sexuality education has a long history of being put into other classes, specifically science and physical education. While I strongly support integrating a discussion of sexuality, sexual development and sexual health into many areas of the curriculum, I also believe that adolescents need a specific safe and supportive class in which to learn, think, and ask questions about this sensitive topic.

Does it matter what teachers’ backgrounds are once they've taken on the task of teaching sex ed? Technically, their particular degree might not matter as much as their knowledge of and enthusiasm for the subject matter. I offer my support and commendation to any teachers excited to bring discussion of sexuality into their classrooms. But I get a very different image from friends’ stories from about hesitant, awkward and grossed out teachers who just had to do the sex ed unit.

Not only the teaching style but also the curriculum changes depending on where the school puts sex ed. The aspects of the sexuality that are emphasized depend on the context in which the material is presented. While science classes might focus specifically on the reproductive system, a physical education class might stress how to take care of a growing body. Furthermore, students will expect the lessons to take on these tones and may not even think to ask questions about the social and emotional aspects of their sexual development.

How will students feel when they're told that today's gym lesson has been canceled due to the sex ed requirement? What attitude will they take toward sex ed and sexual health? What will they perceive about the value of sex ed and its importance in their lives? What will they do when they have questions or need help?

I chose this topic because I've been told to expect official notice that the school district I currently work in will not need me next year. Instead of hiring teachers specifically to teach health, they will instead require physical education teachers to cover my topic. While upset, I'm not that worried about myself and my career. But what will become of my students?