Problems with public schools health education
This is an editorial piece written by Catherine Bouvet on the consequences of Inglemoor High School's limited and exclusionary health curriculum on the well-being of the student body. The graphic was created by Mya Vo.
Inglemoor’s health curriculum covers a wide variety of topics: health foundations, sex education, nutrition, mental health, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, vaping, self-esteem and stress. But the curriculum leaves out or skims over critical aspects of sex education, nutrition and mental health, leaving students without a comprehensive education, especially those who are able to waive the requirement.
At Inglemoor, information about gender identity, periods and masturbation are not mentioned in the classroom, unless a student specifically asks about them. Pregnancy, rape, abuse, abortions, CPR and anatomy are not covered in-depth. The sexual education unit excludes LGBTQ+ topics, only mentioning them primarily during the lesson about sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the unit does not teach students enough about consent.
Abstinence is still taught as the most effective way to prevent STDs and pregnancy. While true, it is not helpful to teach it as the primary method of contraception to students who are already having sex. In the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey, 32% of seniors at Inglemoor reported that they have already had sex. However, only 17% said they were taught methods other than abstinence to prevent STDs and pregnancy, and only 23% said they were taught about healthy relationships and consent. Instead of emphasizing abstinence, the curriculum needs to take a holistic approach to sex education and focus on providing students with the knowledge of a variety of contraceptives, especially if most students will eventually be sexually active.
The nutrition unit includes outdated methods of measuring health, like basal metabolic rate. BMR is used to calculate how many calories are needed in a day based on weight, height and activity levels. However, it doesn’t account for muscle mass, bone density or body fat and can be inaccurate. These measurement tools encourage students to compare their weight to each other, which can trigger or exacerbate eating disorders.
Health topics that aren’t covered in depth or at all disconnect the health curriculum from real life. This disconnect is clear when it comes to students’ mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 in 2020. Yet, the mental health unit doesn’t give students enough strategies to cope with stress, depression, trauma or grief. The Healthy Youth Survey found that 45% of seniors at Inglemoor in 2021 said that they felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more, which led them to stop doing their usual activities. This emphasizes the need for a more robust mental health curriculum.
The health curriculum should include in-depth lessons on a well-rounded curriculum. It should be a requirement for every student to ensure an inclusive learning environment. Outdated lessons need to be improved to protect students from unsafe situations. The state, district and school administration need to take action to create a more thorough health curriculum. Students need to graduate high school with a comprehensive education that will prepare them to be healthy for the rest of their lives.