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Healthy Respect Gets Positive Results at New York High School

Survey shows that curriculum reaches both head and heart of students

“Helpful …Interesting … Fun and educational … I want to be in it again and learn more …They really teach you a lot.”

These were some of the comments by Yonkers (N.Y.) public high school students about the Healthy Respect curriculum that was presented to them in 12 classes during December 2003. The enthusiasm was mutual. “We felt a sense of connection, that we were reaching them with a message that we hope they will carry with them for life,” says Dolly McLemore, who developed the Healthy Respect curriculum and taught some of the classes. “We were really sad to leave at the end of the sessions.”

The Healthy Respect teaching team was privileged to work with 120 ninth-grade students at Gorton High School in Yonkers. The students are enrolled in a unique program called the Medical Magnet Academy, an intense and innovative educational program designed to prepare students for careers in medicine and healthcare. The Healthy Respect message of saving sex for marriage and avoiding drugs and alcohol abuse was well received by the students, many of whom had not thought about the issues deeply. During the 12 classes they came to realize that if they wish to pursue an ambitious career and high personal goals, they need to start making good choices now.

At the end of the program, students were asked to sign an “Accountability Pledge,” in which they promised to think before acting and strive to make the right choices. There were also promises to stay in touch via the Healthy Respect Web site, www.healthrespect.org.

“This class is very good,” wrote one student in an evaluation of the course. “It’s nice that these people are teaching us how to make the right choices in our life.” Another wrote, “I think that the teachers worked hard in trying to tell us the right decisions to make, and I think they care too.”

A survey of the students before and after the 12 classes showed overwhelmingly positive results. Not only did the students enjoy the classes, they learned a lot and intend to use the information they gained as they grow into adulthood, the study showed. For example, among the students who admitted confidentially that they had been sexually active, the percentage who said they wish they had waited longer rose after the classes. Also, the percentage of students who correctly said that sexually transmitted diseases can be transmitted through ways other than sexual intercourse rose from 41 percent to 63 percent. Those who said that abstinence is the only way to avoid some STDs went from 46 percent to 63 percent.

The percentage of students who said condoms were not always reliable also went up after students attended the 12 classes.

“This was the exact result that we were hoping for,” McLemore said. “This shows that they took our message to heart. So many of the kids had not made any conscience decision about sexual relations or drug and alcohol use. These are things they know are out there, and maybe something they’d fall into. But this curriculum got them to think about these issues and take a stand. We showed them through lectures, activities and games that every aspect of their lives will be affected by the choices they make now.”

One of the more popular activities was “Drunk and Dangerous Glasses.” Students put on glasses that distorted their perceptions to approximate the effect of drinking too much alcohol. They found that once they donned the glasses (just as when a person drinks too much) no amount of will or skill could make them see or walk straight. Another popular activity was “The Mop,” in which students tried to balance a mop handle on one hand. They found that when they looked at their hand, it was more difficult to balance the mop than when they looked up at the mop head. The message was that when they keep their sights on a high goal, the decisions they make to reach the goal will have direction. They will lead a well-balanced life.

Dr. Clarice Morris, coordinator of the Medical Magnet Academy (also known as the Academy of Medical Professions), called Healthy Respect “a very effective program” that produced a lot of interest and critical thinking among her students. “At the ninth-grade level, the kids are facing the kind of decisions that this curriculum prepares them for. They now have the information they need to make correct decisions in the future.”

Tyrone Salik, a teacher with Healthy Respect who also runs youth programs at his church in Harlem, said he was happy that students mentioned the care and concern the instructors showed in the classroom. “I still have a place in my heart for the kids,” he said. “When you connect with the kids, they know it’s not just words you’re giving them; they know there’s caring behind what you say. If the kids know you care they will respond.”

Luzeta Phillips said there was “a substantial change” among the students at the end of the 12 classes. “They really wanted us to continue,” she said. “They were asking why we had to leave and if we were coming back. As a teacher, that makes you feel good, to know you are making a difference in a young person’s life.”

“We just don’t want to change attitudes. We want to affect behavior as well,” said John P. Margand, Esq., executive director of Healthy Respect. “The goal of Healthy Respect is to enhance academic performance and protect the health of students by taking the negative consequences of teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse out of the picture. I think this experience with the Yonkers students shows that we do have a measurable impact on the lives of young people.”

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