Academic journal article Education

Health Education for Youth of the 21st Century

Academic journal article Education

Health Education for Youth of the 21st Century

Article excerpt

In the early 1980s my daughter came to me with a career decision that was quite surprising. She declared that she wished to become a health educator. The news was surprising in that teaching had always been outside her realm of interest, possibly because she had grown up in a household in which teaching and education, in general, were a part of daily conversations. Needless to say, any definite life's goal would have been received with pleasure, but for her to have chosen her mother's profession was even more gratifying. Nevertheless, I asked myself, "Could she not have selected a more traditional subject to teach? At the time, health science was not a required subject in California's secondary schools. Not all universities offered health science professional preparation programs. In many districts where health science appeared in the curriculum health classes were taught by persons without a teaching credential in the subject. No one outside of the field appeared particularly distributed by this condition because "health" was not considered a basic, core subject like mathematics or English. Since anyone with a remotely related teaching credential could teach health, I wondered whether there would be employment for my daughter when she finished her preparation. Not to be deterred she obtained a Health Education Secondary Teaching Credential, and subsequently, a Masters Degree in Special Education, and a California Administrative Services Credential. In spite of all this "preparation" her daily life as a teacher and administrator in today's schools is a formidable challenge. We have both come to realize that her background in health science has been invaluable in coping with these challenges. This will become increasingly clear as one reads the vignettes collected over the last six years from middle schools in which she has worked. Of particular note is the fact that these experiences have been in rural schools with no particular ethnic or racial composition; rather the youth in these vignettes are from lower socio-economic families with limited education.

Even in the early eighties HIV-AIDS among middle and high school students had appeared on the horizon, substance abuse among youths had persisted, teen pregnancies had begun to skyrocket, school violence was on the rise, and other societal problems associated with poverty, single parent families, and growing urban isolation predicted that the health of America's youth might well become a major responsibility of the public school.

While public schools are reluctant recipients of more and more of the larger society's responsibilities, we must consider health education to be an inescapable responsibility. This should become clear as we explore what is meant by health education in today's schools, what role it plays in the daily life of teachers and administrators; and how teacher educators are approaching the task of preparing and providing continued professional development for teachers. Let us take the case of Leah:

I first met Leah, an 8th grader, walking back from gym to the office. She said she was sick and wanted to lie down. She told me she had suffered a miscarriage two weeks ago and had an infection. Her mother's boyfriend had punched her in the stomach so hard that she lost the baby. She said he did it because he thought it might have been his baby. I kept my composure and made a report to Children's Protective Services when I returned to my office. Leah rested in the office then returned to class. Later that day, a student reported to me that Leah had marijuana in her backpack. I called Leah in and searched her backpack only to find a switchblade. Our school has a zero tolerance policy for weapons. Leah was faced with an automatic five day suspension and a recommendation for expulsion. I called Leah's mother; Leah begged me not to tell her mother about the pregnancy. She said she had the knife because she feared her mother's boyfriend would kill her, and that he was in jail for having tried to do so the previous night. …

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