In the late winter, early spring of last year (2015); APJN’s Sexual Assault Prevention Program started meeting with faculty of Athens City Schools to collaborate on revising the Health Curriculum for grades K-12. We met with the school board as well as the administration and health teachers, and then met separately with Superintendent Tom Gibbs a handful of times. Dr. Gibbs attended two meetings of our off campus after school group, Youth Against Misogyny and Sexism, to gain the students perspective. Both he and the students showed appreciation for each other’s work and took in a new perspective on sexual assault prevention in schools. After much hard work by the Health Teachers and other staff members, a revision has been completed and is now available for public review. We are proud to say that many of our suggestions have been implemented.
We started working with the school with the primary focus of making the school’s sexual health education more comprehensive and specifically strengthening sexual assault prevention programming. We wanted to see a program that reduces victim blaming and body shaming as well as other forms of oppression. We wanted to see a program that does not shy away from anatomical names of body parts and starts using these words early. When youth have these anatomical names as part of their vocabulary, are educated on their physiological functions, and encouraged to be proud of their body rather than ashamed of it, they are less likely to be a target of sexual violence, as perpetrators will see them as more likely to be able to get help. When children are taught that their body is theirs to decide if and when someone may touch them, their sense of empowerment grows and they are more likely to be able to state and enforce boundaries. We also wanted to see a program that included healthy conflict resolution skills. When students learn how to recognize and communicate their emotions and are given tools to express themselves in non-violent ways, they are less likely to become perpetrators of harm in the future.
Though many of our ideas were implemented and we are pleased with many aspects of the curriculum; there are still some suggestions that were not included in the final draft. Here are some of our remaining suggestions. We would love community help in getting these implemented into the curriculum:
- In this proposed curriculum, the functions of the reproductive system will not be covered until 5th grade. Though most young females do not start their menses until later, many have their first as early as age 8. It is important that students know what will happen to their bodies before changes start to occur. Starting menses without knowing what is happening to you can be traumatic. We want all of our youth to feel at home in their bodies.
- We would like to see education for 7th graders around healthy relationships, healthy dating, as well as mental and emotional issues. There is not currently a health class being taught at this grade level, but this is a developmentally important time. Is there a place where something more could be worked in?
- At the high school level, we are concerned about the phrase “identifying factors that contribute to sexual identity.” We want to be sure that the idea that one chooses their sexual identity is not being taught.
- Also at the high school level, we want to be sure that students know how to help a friend who has passed out from intoxication or may have alcohol poisoning. We do not condone this, but, many high school students experiment with alcohol and go too far. Youth are often afraid to ask an adult for help fearing they will be in trouble. We want to be sure that they have basic first aid skills in this area and can identify when to call for help.
The curriculum revision is currently up for Public Comment thru May 13, 2016. Like minded reviews would be incredibly helpful! You may review the curriculum at: http://www.athenscsd.org/docs/district/district%20news/k-12%20final%20draft%20health%20course%20of%20study.pdf.
Comments can be forwarded to the School Staff at: email@example.com. We know the faculty put a lot of time into this. Don’t hesitate to congratulate them on their hard work!
Ultimately, it will be the teacher’s teaching style that will or will not reach the youth. In Athens City Schools it is the teacher’s call on what guest speakers will be brought in. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, current best practice in the field of violence prevention encourages local schools to partner with community organizations, bringing in a third party with whom teens can identify to teach the more taboo issues (sexual assault prevention and sexual health education). Information is more likely to be absorbed and retained when the students can relate to the teacher and when concepts are reinforced regularly either by teachers and coaches who have more regular contact with the students or with multiple visits by the guest. Though we are not teaching in Athens City Schools at this time; we are actively working on our relationships with the health teachers and exploring avenues of what classrooms in which we may be able to teach. If you would like to see our programs in your child’s classroom, reach out to your teachers and make mention of it to the board.