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Health education has come a long way since I sat crammed into a one-piece desk and chair in a room behind the gym with the whirring and clicking of outdated filmstrips on cleanliness and sterile male voice-overs on conception. There was no anonymous question box. No dialogue. No opinion. It was a one-way communication.
Now, there are a lot of questions to be answered:
What does it mean to be healthy? How healthy are you? Where do you get your health information? What do you see as the biggest local health problems? How does our perception compare to reality, and what explains the difference? What are your personal health goals when it comes to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, diet and relationships?
What are the top health problems in the United States? For teens? Is the rate of teen tobacco use rising or falling? How does early alcohol use affect brain development - is there a reason in addition to laws to delay first use of alcohol? What are the laws about minors and sexual activity? What are the risks of sexual contact and how can they be prevented?
Things have really changed! Most importantly, the educational standards require students to be actively engaged in assessing, discussing, reflecting and planning. It is a daunting and active process requiring students to look at the influences on their own personal health and health choices, to hear and respond to others' ideas, and to research and test their theories against the most up-to-date data. It also asks students to look at the bigger picture of health in the U.S. and the forces that support or undermine health in our society. We hope that the work that is done will help our students envision a life of choice for themselves in a complicated world.
True as always, the range of exposure to risky behavior is diverse. Some students have direct experiences; some have no experience and great discomfort with the topics. Internet and texting have magnified the consequences of impulsivity and opened a realm of images and ideas to minds which are not yet ethically and socially developed. Misinformation is rampant.
In order to address the above issues, our students participate in a 2-semester Health program. We meet once a week for an hour and a half, mixing research and activities with surveys and discussion. We are practicing what we preach by incorporating 30 minutes of exercise and fresh air into the afternoon, rain or shine. We started with a health survey that helped students get an anonymous snapshot of others' ideas and helped them see for themselves that there are some things they don't know and which they can learn in this class. Students started by drawing and listing their understanding about the healthy human Now they are working on broadening their knowledge base and (hopefully) deepening their personal commitment to live healthy, happy fulfilling lives.