Throughout the past decade Arizona has consistently ranked among the top 10 U.S. states with the highest number of teenage pregnancies. Now, parents of students in the Kyrene School District have an opportunity to play an active role in the district’s health curriculum focusing on growth and development that may help their children make informed choices as they mature.
The KSD Governing Board adopted new objectives last April to teach students about the dangers of sexual abuse, pregnancy and STDs. So far, only five parents in the entire district have reviewed the materials.
“Once the curriculum objectives are adopted by the governing board we have to find materials to convey and teach the objectives,” said Susanna Yost, health curriculum coordinator for KSD.
Now that the curriculum has been modified, it has been put up for a 60-day public review. Any parent or community member interested in viewing the curriculum and providing their input can visit KSD headquarters to view videos and read lesson plans that will eventually show up in KSD classrooms.
“We want parents to be fully aware of what we’re teaching and give us their feedback,” Yost said. “The curriculum is opt-in permission based, so if the children don’t have permission from their parents they don’t take part in the lessons.”
According to Yost, only about 2 percent of students across the entire district opt-out of the growth and development health education.
To meet KSD’s new curriculum objective to reduce STDs and teen pregnancy, a section of the seventh- and eighth-grade curriculum focuses on condoms and the fact that they can reduce the risk of pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
“There are no demonstrations with condoms, the students will just be told that condoms reduce risks and where they can be bought,” Yost said.
KSD teamed up with the Maricopa County Health Department to develop appropriate presentations, and speakers from the health department will actually come to KSD schools to make the presentations.
“We’ve found that the students are more willing to ask sensitive questions of knowledgeable speakers who visit their classroom than their every day teacher,” Yost said. “The speakers have guidelines to help them appropriately answer questions that may arise.”
Aside from presentations by the county speakers, new videos have also been chosen for the various grade levels. One video, Let’s Just Talk, which will be shown to fifth-graders, teaches about growth and development in the form of a radio show. Topics discussed include changes to expect as students go through puberty and how to keep a healthy level of self-esteem.
Another new video, presented in a more serious tone, Abuse: If It Happens To You, discusses emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and what students should do if they fall victim to these types of abuse.
The new health curriculum has been available to parents for several weeks now, and will remain available until March 26. Ahwatukee Foothills resident Tami Brian viewed the materials because her daughter is a KSD student.
“I feel as a parent that it is good to be involved in certain processes,” Brian said. “Anytime schools can improve on the materials they have for educating children on sensitive subjects, I think it benefits the children and entire community.”
According to Brian, there is definite improvement in the curriculum, and she believes students will remember the subjects discussed in the videos.
“I think the videos proved that there are appropriate ways to touch on the subjects that are happening to children today,” she said. “It’s important to keep the kids up on what’s happening around them.”
Michelle Hirsch, vice president of the KSD Governing Board, is one of two governing board members who reviewed the materials. Hirsch hopes that KSD parents will take advantage of this opportunity to provide input on what their children will learn.
“I can say as a previous KSD parent myself, there were a couple of times when I went and viewed materials, and there were a couple of times when I didn’t,” she said. “I always felt better when I viewed them and had a better understanding of what my children were learning. It made for better discussion at home.”
When Hirsch reviewed the curriculum, she was surprised at how quickly the process went.
“It doesn’t take very long if you’re looking at one grade level or all of them,” Hirsch said. “It’s an hour of your time at the most.”
When sensitive subject matter is involved, as in this instance, Hirsch encourages parents to take a look at the curriculum for themselves instead of relying on other people’s impressions and opinions.
“As a parent, to see the materials for yourself is much better than hearing a rumor about what’s in the materials,” Hirsch said. “When material is controversial, it’s good for parents to be clear and confident about what their children are learning.”
To view the new health curriculum, visit KSD headquarters at 8700 S. Kyrene Road. Grade levels in which curriculum has been adjusted include fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades.
After the review period is over, the KSD Governing Board will take the feedback from parents and community members into consideration and vote on whether or not to modify or adopt the curriculum as is.