Summer health? Not so sick.

Oct. 16, 2020, 1:06 p.m. | By Jasper Swartz | 3 years, 8 months ago

Why MCPS shouldn't offer their health curriculum to students over the summer

When Norah Lesperin, a sophomore at Albert Einstein, took health over summer break to get the required graduation credit out of the way, she encountered hateful comments about her identity and a sexual assault lesson so insensitive that it made her feel nauseous. 

Many students feel that health is too tedious of a course to take for an entire semester, so MCPS provides a shortened version of the class over the summer. Unfortunately, the abridged lessons often breeze through important topics that merit more discussion than the three-week class allows and give teachers less time to form bonds with their students. 

By promoting a quick and easy alternative to the regular health class during the school year, MCPS contributes to the dangerous notion that health is an unimportant throwaway class. “The way that the curriculum is set up, it’s more about completing the tasks. It’s less about understanding the ideas,” Blair sophomore Anna Uline said.

The rapid nature of the course creates a disconnect between teachers and students. Lesperin said that she felt unsafe during a health lesson over the summer about LGBTQ+ identities when another student commented in the chat that they do not believe gay students face bullying. 

“To me, as an LGBT student reading that, I was like, ‘oh no,’ but it moved too fast for the teacher to read it, and she didn’t respond,” she said. “Suddenly, I felt that it was my duty to help this kid understand, but there was nothing I could do, and it then made me really uncomfortable knowing I was in a class with someone who might possibly think that gay people lie about being bullied. It was a nerve-wracking moment.” 

Sonia Pivovarov

Educators like Barbara Contino, a current Richard Montgomery teacher who has taught health for 23 years, feel that the compressed schedule does not permit enough discourse. “I need more time to build a better relationship with some of my students so there can be more communication and overall sharing,” Contino said. Online summer health, however, doesn’t provide her with that time.

When the curriculum is condensed, teachers must condense a semester’s worth of information into a few weeks—and unfortunately, key information is lost. “The biggest challenge teaching over the summer is finishing the curriculum in a very short period of time,” Contino furthered. 

Lessons that would have been taught and discussed over a period of a few days during the school year are reduced to meaningless modules that students often ignore. “There was one Zoom lesson and then a couple of articles [about LGBTQ+ identities] that the teacher put on MyMCPS classroom,” Uline said, “[but] I didn’t do them because there were no worksheets to go with them.” 

When we graduate, odds are that knowing how to solve for x in a complicated algebra equation or the date of the Battle of Gettysburg will never cross our minds again. Health, however, is crucial—think first aid, eating a balanced diet, and phone numbers like the suicide prevention hotline. But when these topics are taught over the summer, they are severely rushed.

Lesperin and Uline both referenced a worksheet that was assigned to students taking health this summer titled “Preventing Sexual Aggression.” The first question on the assignment asked students to list three ways to avoid being the victim of sexual assault.

Lesperin was infuriated by the lesson. “I was horrified. I was angry,” she said. “What if someone in the class was a victim of sexual assault and ended up thinking it was their fault because of the lesson?” 

Uline, who is a survivor of sexual assault, shares Lesperin’s sentiments. “The sexual assault unit... I found [it] very offensive,” Uline said. “I am a victim of sexual assault, and the unit was full of victim-blaming. It made you write out how to prevent being sexually assaulted.”

That part of the unit was removed after students complained, according to Uline. However, the fact that it was assigned in the first place, with no follow-up lesson to clarify consent or apologize for blaming survivors, demonstrates the serious consequences of shortening the course.

MCPS should require that all students take a full semester health class. While students may find this tedious, this is the only way to ensure that the subject is treated with the gravity it requires. A full semester gives students the opportunity to thoroughly engage with the material and discuss it in a safe space—characteristics that are not guaranteed during the summer course. 

If students are interested in taking extra classes over the summer to satisfy graduation requirements or earn more credits, let them take the courses that cover material that won’t matter in a life-or-death situation. Health is too important to be given only a cursory three weeks and a couple of worksheets. When students go out into the world, the lessons that we will need most will be those taught in the health classroom. 

Last updated: Feb. 9, 2021, 2:23 p.m.

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