Learning about the birds and the bees on the playground has never been the best source for truths about sexual health.
This year, the subject is back in the classroom after School District 20 (SD20) partnered with Healthy School coordinators to advocate and develop consistent school-based sexuality education, titled the Comprehensive Sexual Health Initiative, by involving stakeholders from Interior Health, community organizations, parents, staff and students.
“A couple of years ago it came to our attention that there were teachers out there struggling with a minimal amount of sexual health information that currently sits in our curriculum,” explained Bill Ford, SD20’s assistant superintendent. “But they didn’t want to take that on and create something on their own,” he said. “So the conversation across the district became if this is something we should spend some time on.”
With the assistance of a liaison, called a Healthy School coordinator, a goal was developed for the school district to implement a sexual health curriculum that can be taught consistently within all its classrooms by using a holistic approach where school administration, teachers, parents, students and community agencies work together to create an environment that will have a positive impact on a child’s health and learning.
“We collected information from parents and kids about sexual health, such as what were the issues and what the current thinking is out there,” said Ford. “Then we built a comprehensive approach to sexual health through the thoughtstream process.”
That process was completed online through a series of emailed questions (thoughtstream) designed for respondents to rank the importance of each issue by assigning stars, and provided opportunity for comment through open-ended questions.
From May of last year to present, 94 teachers and educational assistants in SD20, 476 parents and 150 students in grades 9-12 provided input about current sexual education classes and ways those lessons can be improved.
Based on reports generated from that data, initial steps are already in place to address priorities that were identified in the study.
A brief overview of student responses showed that most said they “kinda learned” sexual health over the years, or learned it from their friends or on the Internet.
With this in mind, a “task force” is currently being created to develop consistent sexual health lessons with a focus on students in grades six through eight.
“We are backing up the bus to start with those grades,” said Ford. “This is based on what those students said they wanted to know and wished they knew in Grade 9,” he continued. “Now that we have that knowledge we can put it in place and develop an action plan that we can implement in classrooms across the district.”
Additionally, SD20 is committed to bringing certified sexual health educators into the classrooms to provide workshops in the schools and to parent advisory committees that have actively expressed interest.
“This is a deep process in terms of identifying how to move this forward,” said Ford. “But I can say there are many people in the community who care deeply about our youth and issues with their sexual health. So many of them have stuck up their hand to help us with this.”