Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Family life classes changing in Hopewell
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Mar 1, 2013, 13:56

HOPEWELL ­— Students in fourth through 10th grade will soon see a change to the way Family Life is taught in the classroom. Betty Ware, supervisor of career and technical education, health, physical education and fine arts, said the changes, which will be implemented in the spring, will help educate the students on sensitive topics, such as HIV/AIDS, pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted diseases.

Ware said the Crater Health District approached her with a curriculum aimed at teaching to the sensitive topics and also resources to aid in the lessons. The curriculum, which is state-approved, is currently being used in Sussex County and Petersburg.

“In an effort to give our kids a little more knowledge, they convinced me that it’s something we might want to try in Hopewell,” Ware said of the Crater Health District, which will have specialists helping teach in the classroom.

One change that will be taking place, in addition to the curriculum, which will include more visual aids, such as pictures and videos, will be a separation of male and female students.

“I think the kids might speak a little more freely or especially if that’s some person that’s not their teacher doing the talking,” Ware said.

At the School Board meeting on Feb. 19, Ware presented the changes to the board, along with a draft of a letter that will be sent home to parents to review. Parents will have an opt-out option for their child for the family classes. Parents can choose to opt their child out of the entire curriculum or just certain topics.

This is stated in Virginia Code 22.1-207.2. Part of this summary states “Parents and guardians also have the right to excuse their child from all or part of family life education.”

To help implement these changes, Ware formed a committee, consisting of teachers from elementary, middle and high school, clergy, administrators and medical personnel, to help review the curriculum and materials. The school health advisory board said the separation of the sexes needs to begin at fourth grade, though family life standards for the state begin at kindergarten.

“We’re always thinking about what we can do to help our kids be better citizens,” Ware said.

At the meeting, Ware also told the board the family life topics will be taught during health classes at the middle school and high school and during resource period at the elementary schools. The lessons will span the course of a few days.

Ware said the School Board is buying the curriculum in next few weeks and it will be at the schools for parents to come in and review before classes begin.

School Board member Larry Joyner was in support of the changes, noting students now have much more access to information than in years prior. He continued saying while the changes were needed, the curriculum needs to be reviewed as well.

“If the curriculum isn’t having an effect, we need to get rid of it,” Joyner said. “If we’re not getting the results we want, we need to keep tweaking this thing.”

One result Ware and other School Board members want to see is a decrease in teen pregnancies in the school district. In 2010, there were 102,934 live births in Virginia, of that number, 10,970 were born to teen moms. Hopewell had 74 teen mothers in 2010. Of those 74 births, 26 moms were ages 15 to 17, and 47 moms were ages 18 and 19.

“I was a high school teacher for 22 years,” Ware said. “I want to see those kids plan their futures, plan their futures and have choices.”

With the teen pregnancy rate in the Tri-Cities still remaining high, the health standards of learning are still being looked to for students to learn about healthy choices.

Students in grade 8 learn about teen pregnancy as laid out by the 8.10 guideline. “The student will analyze the issues related to teen pregnancy.” In 8.11 the student guideline states “the student will review facts about pregnancy prevention and disease control.”

Abstinence education teaches students to abstain from sex until marriage. The guideline is stated in several grade levels, including ninth grade. Guideline 9.6 states “The student will realize the importance of setting standards for controlling sexual behavior and of postponing sexual relations until marriage.”

There are two different forms of abstinence education programs. One is abstinence-only, which teaches to abstain from sex until marriage, and the other is abstinence-plus, which teaches students about the different forms of contraception. It is the decision of the School Board as to whether or not to teach about the forms of contraception.

In addition to learning about pregnancy prevention, students in grade 10 learn the skills needed for parenting. Guideline 10.14 states “the student will analyze the skills and attitudes needed to become a competent parent.” Guideline 10.17 states “the student will review the positive aspects of family life as a basic unit of society and as a means of personal development.”

Ware is looking forward to the changes in the coming months. She said the changes are to help the students grow and will help them in the future.

“The conversations among the children should change and the way they behave,” Ware said. “It might even help some stuff it wasn’t intended to help as far as discipline is concerned.”

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