Extending Health Curriculum Would Have Benefits for All

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We most often associate “school” with the core subjects—math, english, science, and history, but physical education is just as much a part of the curriculum. Currently, the New York State requirement for graduation is seven semesters of Physical Education and one semester of Health Education. However, this one health semester is insufficient in passing on crucial knowledge that students will need throughout their lives.

Health programs can be great if the teachers are committed to providing their students with the best education possible.

I believe that as times are changing, health education is becoming much more important, and is expanding every year; five months is definitely not enough to cover everything; we should expand the curriculum to two semesters, even experimentally.

An important lesson concerns decision making, which is actually a rather extensive topic that we should be placing more emphasis on. It applies to all topics when you think about it —mental health, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, nutrition, sex—all of that is decision making. Health class focuses on awareness, options, consequences, decisions, actions and reflections on our final decisions.  I think more time helping students with this process is never a waste of time. Health is not just another science class, nor is it a class where students scramble to copy down facts. It’s about “practicing” decision making. How do facts teach you to practice standing up for yourself? How do they help you in saying no to someone who’s offering you a cigarette at a party or pressuring you to have sex? Kids need the room to practice and the chance to get to know one another, not a teacher.

In our current curriculum, we spend the most time on the mental health unit, which is not an accident. Mentally, students have an incredible burden to deal with. They are stressed from all of the demands that are put on them at such a young age;  they need a little mental relaxation.

Students, especially in this school, want to say “yes” to everything, and mental health is not focused on as much as it should be in real life. However, because we only have one semester, other topics do not get as much attention as they should be receiving.

Recently, we have been using a new curriculum involving books from the HealthSmart series including Emotional and Mental Health, Nutritional and Physical Activity, Violence and Injury Prevention,  and HIV, STD, and Pregnancy Prevention. With this new curriculum, we are able to additionally cover more topics that students are interested in. However, many activities are student driven and require quite a bit of time to be done effectively.

We could get so much more out of each class discussion if we had more time. We should be given more time to cover these questions and topics which  will surely affect the entirety of students’ lives. Knowledge is the best power.