In the light of recent changes within New Haven Public School’s health education, Yale’s Community Health Educators are seeking a new role within the schools.
Until last year, New Haven’s public schools lacked a comprehensive health curriculum that covered social development and sexual health. However, prompted by state-mandated health education requirements, the district adopted a more comprehensive health education curriculum, prompting leaders in CHE to rethink their role within the schools.
“We want to make sure we are as supportive of New Haven and the rollout as possible as well as making sure that students are receiving an adequate health education,” said Katie Rich ’16, CHE co-coordinator. “We want to be there for them and make sure that students are receiving a health education, whether that’s our workshops or the new health model.”
Starting last year in its elementary schools, New Haven public schools adopted the Michigan Model for Health, a curriculum covering a variety of health issues such as nutrition, drug abuse and emotional health, said Sue Peters, New Haven Public Schools’ director of student health centers. But CHE only works within New Haven’s public middle and high schools, so its operations were initially unaffected.
This year, teachers are introducing the new curriculum to the middle schools for the first time, beginning the shift in CHE’s relationship with the schools. The curriculum will be introduced to high schools next year.
Before New Haven public schools adopted a new curriculum, health education was spread across different departments within the schools and complemented by CHE’s workshops, Peters said. Nutrition was covered in physical education and the science department taught body systems, Peters said. Students in five of 10 New Haven high schools and 10 to 12 middle schools also receive instruction from CHE workshops, according to CHE co-coordinator Valerie Eisenson ’15.
But unlike the previous system, the new curriculum provides a standardized health education covering a wider variety of topics for all students in the district, Peters said.
When CHE initially became involved with New Haven Public Schools, student volunteers mainly presented workshops on social development and sexual health, Peters said. CHE served as a valuable part of New Haven’s health education, but the lessons had a narrow focus, she said.
“They certainly never expected to be the only health education that kids got,” Peters said. “The Community Health Educators developed a lot of lessons themselves, but it’s not the same as a comprehensive, sequential health education system.”
CHE’s role within the school district remains ambiguous, though this year CHE’s efforts in the middle school will be centered on helping teachers introduce the new curriculum, not teaching, Eisenson said.
While Peters was optimistic about CHE’s continuing importance to New Haven Public Schools, she added that the biggest challenge is figuring out how to fit workshops or supplementary discussions into a busy school year.
CHE’s leaders are also working with the district to maintain the peer-to-peer tone generated by student-led workshops, Rich said.
“Students feel a little more comfortable asking questions with us than maybe with their science teacher, especially with sensitive topics,” Eisenson said. “The Board of Ed sees that as really important.”
Last year Community Health Educators led workshops in 24 New Haven high schools and middle schools, reaching out to over 2,000 students.