Newly admitted ninth graders will be entering Deerfield under a revised health education program where they will have to attend health class once a week for the entire year. This finalized program is the result of years of discussion and evaluation of the health program in place at Deerfield.
The current curriculum involves a term long course, usually in the student’s sophomore year, when students attend health classes four times a week. Throughout the term, health teachers discuss relevant issues like substance abuse, healthy relationships, and mental health with students. However, this program has certain flaws, including the fact that the health course is only taught for one term, a relatively short amount of time.
“The biggest challenge is that we have students who spend a year and a half on campus with no formal space to have serious in depth discussions about health,” Health Issues Teacher Margaret Brown explained. “That’s a long time and a lot of change without opportunities to talk about making health decisions.”
Elaborating on the issue of time, Oscar Depp ‘21, a sophomore who has taken the school’s health class, shared, “The fundamentals are all covered for what is necessary as an adult or beyond the age of sixteen, but it’s a little insufficient if you want to cover all of the them in depth in a one term course.”
The new health program hopes to be able to amend the aforementioned issues by extending the length of the course and introducing the course immediately to incoming freshmen.
“Any time you discuss a topic multiple times, people learn more and are better equipped to make healthier decisions,” Dr. Brown stated. “[With a longer course], we will [be able to] vary the topics, especially the depth to which we discuss the topics, with every grade.”
Some students believe offering the health class to ninth graders will be effective in promoting a healthy way of life, as they enter their high school experience.
In support of the change, Depp shared, “It’s imperative for them to teach health freshmen year… By the time we’re sophomores, we’ve already been exposed to many of the issues health classes discuss… [Therefore], it is necessary for freshmen to learn about certain health issues right when they arrive on campus.”
Elaborating on the reasoning behind his belief, Depp explained, “Ninth graders engage in more group type behavior, and as a result are more susceptible to peer pressure. Along with this group psychology at Deerfield, you have a lot of students who would engage in unhealthy habits.”
However, other students disapprove of the revamped program. Many of them maintain that the extension of the health education course is both ineffective and a hindrance to students’ academic pursuits.
As Elven Shum ‘20 stated, “I agree that the material that is covered in the current course is not substantial enough to adequately prepare students for college, given the time constraints of a one-term class. However, I don’t believe adding so much time for ninth and tenth grade students is the solution.”
Focusing more on the potential disruptions in students’ schedule, Neil Nie ‘19 shared, “My biggest concern is that this will negatively affect students’ academic schedules. It would be difficult to take double period science classes or year-long rigorous courses.”
Additionally, some students feel as though the strong emphasis on health education as a whole is unnecessary and ineffective.
As Mariachiara Giudici ’20 explained, “A lot of middle schools have health classes, so most students have all been exposed to the topics discussed in our health classes in a classroom, formal setting. Hearing it one more time will just go right over our heads… So I don’t think sitting through another lecture is going to change their learning in any way.”
Expanding on how the health center should address health issues, Giudici elaborated, “It’s more important for the health center to make sure it is ready to accept anyone with questions, which they’re great about, and making sure, once a student needs help or wants help, there are adequate resources for them.”
As the program is still in development, the Health Department is hoping to see the results from the program’s change in the coming school year. From there, they will work to decide what aspects of the health education at Deerfield will be changed or kept the same.
Sharing her final hopes for the revamped program, Dr. Brown stated, “I am hopeful that students will look forward to the changes and embrace the opportunity to discuss health-related topics throughout their time at DA.”