A new directive from Sacramento is requiring that all pupils from grades 7-12 receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education. See the California Healthy Youth Act, for details.
Sounds like a good idea? Sure. Probably. After all, the total tuition time may only be about 11 hours. But here’s the downside.
Additional classes have to be added to the curriculum. To fill those classes students need to be pulled from other electives. That means courses like AVID and the arts get hammered. Let’s add some stats to this.
A musical example
Suppose a middle school band director teaches about 230 kids each week – 6 periods a day. He is teaching raw beginners to read music and play simple tunes in Beginning Band. The best of these move into Advanced Band and Jazz Band the following year. Now, take 80 kids out of the beginning band program to teach HIV prevention. This immediately reduces the population of kids who will be good enough for the following year’s Advanced and Jazz band. In fact, one of those bands will probably have to be dropped. Yet it was the pride of the school and always performed at school wide and festive events.
The results are yet more dire, since the high school band to which the advanced musicians will go completely depends on the middle school for its new band members. (High school does not teach beginners.) Now the high school band program is compromised and cannot get enough musicians to sustain its traditionally excellent program. The band becomes a shadow of its former excellence.
All because the junior high school kids needed 11 hours of sex education.
The same with drama
Here is a drama teacher who for many years taught five Beginner classes and one Advanced drama class. On average one fifth of the kids in beginning drama move into advanced drama the following year. These advanced kids then move to high school and become the core of the high school program.
Now comes the state mandated health program and the middle school administrator pulls out 70 kids from the drama program. Note – this is exactly what will happen come this fall when schools will return from summer break. The drama teacher no longer has a full time drama program and for the first time ever is required to teach Speech (for instance). Her beginning classes drop from 5 to 3 for a total of about 105 students. The math applies: about one fifth of these beginners will qualify for advanced drama – a class of about 21 students. This is a drastic reduction from the usual 35 students with whom the teacher may stage about 6 shows in a year. This smaller number moves up to high school, only to weaken that theatre program.
Of course, it is not just the band or drama program that gets hit, but almost any elective program. Some have already had to close. And for what? – For 11 hours of state mandated health tuition.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of students, simply do not get a second elective. Instead they go on the wheel. The wheel consists of four, nine-week courses ranging from speech, home economics, Mandarin, forensics, marine biology, exploring medical careers, etc. One may argue that kids should rightly be exposed to a greater variety of academic subjects. The trouble is that these are junior high kids, many of whom still read poorly and struggle with math and history. The diversification introduced by the wheel may prove to be a drastic dilution of learning.
The Anaheim Union High School District has approved the policy of Equal Rights in Arts Learning – which you may read here on this blog. The Board has no sooner signed up to the highest ideals for arts education than they immediately undercut it and deprive hundreds of kids of an arts education, cutting deeply into well established and successful arts programs.
Finding other solutions
There are other way to comply with the California Healthy Youth Act by means of after school classes, or Saturday School. Apparently there are limitations on who may teach the health classes; and those teachers do not necessarily want to teach on Saturday, in spite of the fact they they would get paid. Districts have flexibility in how the health program may be taught.
As a voice representing the community in Anaheim we recognize the value of teaching the Healthy Youth program but not at the expense of so much damage to arts programs.