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Monfredo: New Health Curriculum to be Voted on Next Week

Saturday, February 02, 2019

 

The Worcester Public Schools, as it has done the past, will deal with another difficult social problem within the community.  According to the data, Worcester is concerned about sexual transmitted diseases among teens… teen birth rate continues to be an issue, especially among our Hispanic teens, and incidents of HIV and other diseases is high for individuals over twenty.  In addition, our state is confronting an opioid addiction problem. Thus, when there is a problem in our community, the schools are always called upon to address the crisis.  Mayor Joseph Petty in his inaugural address a year ago stressed the importance of dealing with this most important issue.

Therefore, Superintendent Maureen Binienda with her staff had been working on a plan to address these health issues.  At the last school committee meeting a presentation on the need for a comprehensive health program was presented by Superintendent Binienda and by Dr. Matilde Castiel Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services.  Dr. Castiel, in her slide presentation, showed data collected by the Worcester Regional Youth Health Survey.  It revealed that students who took the survey felt that they have not been exposed to enough information on sexual education in school.  Also, over 50% of Middle School students, according to the survey, stated that conversations had taken place with parents or other adults on ways to prevent HIV or other STI’s.  The survey showed 31% of high school students have had sexual intercourse.  Other information on the survey showed that 20% of students who have had sexual intercourse drank alcohol or used drugs the last time they had sex.  In addition, 14% of high school students identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other.  In addition, 87% of surveyed Worcester voters believe that sex education should be comprehensive and taught in the schools.

Therefore, Superintendent Binienda, along with her staff, had looked at ways of improving the present health syllabus and are attempting to come up with a comprehensive health education curriculum which includes a comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality education.

The district has proposed the “Michigan Model” for the Comprehensive Health Program.   This model for grade 6 teaches students about social-emotional health, nutrition, and physical activity, media/technology literacy and digital citizenship, safety, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, personal health and wellness and HIV/AIDS.

In grades seven and eight, students will learn about social-emotional health and safety, nutrition, alcohol and other drugs, tobacco, HIV and other STI diseases, growing up and staying healthy, human reproduction system, genital human papillomaavirus (HPV), pregnancy prevention, staying within the boundaries,  and character education.  In addition, throughout the manual there are pages in each lesson on “Know the facts.” An example would be … “most people who are infected with HIV have gotten it through sexual intercourse.”

This Model does emphasize that parents and families are the first and primary sexuality educators of their children and it encourages families and schools to work together instead of in isolation.

The Michigan Model for Health was first implemented in 1985 and the goal was to create a coordinated and collaborative program that provided school-aged children with information and skills related to health and disease prevention.  This model can be found in 39 states.  Studies have shown the effectiveness of the model including declining numbers in alcohol and other drug use, unhealthy eating, and other risky behaviors by those who received the curriculum.

The major goal of this Model is to motivate and assist students to maintain and or improve their health, prevent disease, and reduce health-related risk between the home, school, and community groups.  The Michigan Model has a long, successful track record in use since 1985 with a most recent update in 2016.

As for sexual health, it is taught in the context of a comprehensive health model.  The role of pregnancy prevention, abstinence, helping Middle School Youth think critically about sexual behavior, talking to your partner before having sexual intercourse, and the use of condoms is all part of this comprehensive health approach.

At the present time the schools do not have a comprehensive health curriculum and with issues such as the drugs, alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases on the rise Superintendent Binienda wanted to have an inclusive health curriculum.  Thus, she is recommending the Michigan Model as a research-based option for the schools and to include as mentioned the sexual education component in the curriculum.

This Model is a start but more will have to be included in the future. In the Superintendent’s recommendations presented to the School Committee, she is requesting that come this June health teachers review the new curriculum, if passed by the School Committee at its February 7th meeting, to consider its strengths and weaknesses and recommend additional resources if needed.  In addition, the Superintendent has also suggested the following:

Students, parents and the community to review the curriculum at the end of the 2020 school year to make further recommendations
Health teachers and school leadership will receive training to address the needs of LBGTQ students as directed and trained by DESE to ensure the delivery of instructional curriculum to all students
Continue to increase the number of elective health courses available to students in grade 9-12
Expand access to health classes in Grade 8 if there is funding available

In addition, I would suggest that administration look at ways of expanding health education opportunities for students in our high schools.  Could every student in grade nine be involved in a 10-week course if funding is available?  At the moment health is an elective in the ninth grade.  Perhaps the same can be said about grade 10 for those first two years of high school are pivotal times in the life of a teen.

To the naysayers out there… let’s give this Model a chance and then have the district review the new Model and come back to the School Committee with an evaluation and recommendations for future changes.  Let’s move forward on this all-important issue!

 

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