Teacher helps students make sense of sex

As a teacher in New Haven’s unique sex education program, Mickey Kavanagh has established herself as the best in her field.

Kavanagh, who has been a sex educator in New Haven’s Social Development Program for over a decade, was recently selected as sex educator of the year by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of Connecticut. The program tackles everything from substance abuse to violence prevention to goal-setting.

“I think it’s wonderful, and I’m very pleased,” Kavanagh said. “I’ve been doing this work for a long time and it feels nice to be recognized.”

Kavanagh will be honored at SIECONN’s annual dinner on May 22. SIECONN is a branch of the Sexuality and Information Council of the United States, a national information resource for issues relating to sexuality.

The social development program was created in 1989, when a group of community leaders created a comprehensive prevention program that focused on social issues. Operating as a separate department within the school system, it is the only social development model in the country with a K-12 program, social development coordinator Joyce Didia said.

“It’s a very complex, comprehensive school-wide program,” Didia said. “We’re dealing with social issues and a lot of pro-active stuff — sex education, drugs, relationships, violence, conflict resolution.” The Social Development Program is required for all New Haven students. In lower grade levels, teachers incorporate social development lessons into other classes. In middle and high schools, students attend a separate class devoted to social development skills.

“We’re actually nationally known and have had a lot of people come in to observe our program,” Didia said. “It’s like the best-kept secret of New Haven.”

Kavanagh said her lessons would be less significant without the structure the larger department provides.

“Because we are a part of Social Development, everything that we do in sex ed always has the level of problem-solving and decision-making and goal-setting,” Kavanagh said.

After graduating from college, Kavanagh taught French in the Orange, Conn. school system for nine years before leaving to pursue sex education. When AIDS became a national health concern in the 1980s, Kavanagh began developing an AIDS education program. After the social development program was formed, organizers invited her to be part of the program.

Since then, she has continued to do what she enjoys most.

“I don’t have typical days,” Kavanagh said.

An example was a visit Wednesday to a New Haven elementary school that had been having some problems with “inappropriate touch” in the student body.

“It’s perfectly OK to be curious about your own body and others’ bodies but there are appropriate ways to learn about those differences,” Kavanagh said.

Despite her busy days, Kavanagh remains dedicated to AIDS education. A large portion of her time is devoted to promoting HIV and AIDS awareness in high schools, culminating in a week-long affair that includes role-playing, guests from the community, and speakers who have the disease.

Rebecca Jaffe ’02 had an opportunity to attend “AIDS Week” while doing research for her senior project.

“I thought it was interesting and I was especially impressed with the HIV positive speakers,” Jaffe said. “They were engaging presenters and their stories were quite compelling.”

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