Student Run HS&R Classes Promote Honest Conversations
by Kalaria Okali on Friday, February 24th, 2017
HS&R, an optional sexual education course at Milton, offers students a platform to discuss sexuality and relationships in a fun and relaxed environment; classes began meetings two weeks ago. According to the Milton website, the course started in 1978 when students requested a forum for discussions concerning relationship issues that weren’t being addressed elsewhere at school.
All freshmen are required to take Health, a class which meets once a week and discusses a few overlapping concepts with HS&R. However, many students complete their Health course with many questions regarding sexuality and relationships left unanswered.
Sophomores can sign up to take Beginner’s HS&R and may choose to continue into Advanced HS&R in their junior year. Both courses are led by senior members of SECS (Students Educating the Community about Sexuality). The classes meet weekly in the evenings from the end of winter to the spring, covering everything from contraception to social pressures.
The fact that HS&R is led by seniors makes it unique as far as typical sex-ed classes go, and many people accredit its popularity to the student-run format. Ms. Barnett, who co-leads the HS&R and SECS programs along with Ms. Morin, remarked that, “Research suggests that people are more likely to listen to and incorporate messages, and potentially change their perspectives and choices if they believe the person delivering the information is similar to them. Having seniors teach the lessons brings a certain social legitimacy that might not be achieved with adult leaders.”
Natalie Wamester (II) brought up a similar point, stating, “I think students are intrigued because it’s not the usual sex-ed class run by teachers trying to scare you out of having sex. I think so many people do it because the SECS leaders are around the same age so they understand how the students feel and can more efficiently relate to them and teach them.”
While HS&R has proven to be successful overall, Ms. Barnett discussed some of the challenges that the program faces: “We continue to strive for an inclusive curriculum that takes into account our multiple identities and their intersectionality. Making sure that our curriculum isn’t too heteronormative is a constant challenge for us.”
Natalie also touched on how Milton’s diversity plays a role in the class, explaining, “Since we have such a diverse study body, we all have different levels of understanding and comfort talking about sexual relationships, and HS&R gives us an opportunity to feel more comfortable talking about relationships.”
At the bottom of the HS&R page on Milton’s website there is a disclaimer which states, “Milton Academy does not promote sexual activities, but continues to believe strongly and to promote the practice of sexual abstinence as the safest and best choice. However, when students do choose to partake in sexual activities, Milton believes in providing safe and accurate information and resources (i.e. condoms, counseling, etc.).”
The purpose of HS&R is not to promote sexual activity in any way, but rather to educate students on the topic. Whether or not schools offer information to students regarding safe sex, there will be students engaging in sexual activity. So providing a resource such as HS&R is productive as well as essential.
While Massachusetts State Law does not require schools to educate their students about sexuality, Milton’s choice to do so is multi-faceted. Ms. Barnett offered her opinion on the importance of the class and explained, “There are so many reasons why this program is important, but my number one is providing choice. If teenagers decide to engage in physical intimacy or serious relationships, they should have all the information necessary to make educated choices. They should understand the physical, social and emotional risks.” She also describes her hope for Milton’s community to contain a “positive peer culture where friends are pushing each other to make authentic and healthy choices about sex, sexuality, and relationships.”
HS&R at Milton is clearly more than a typical sex-ed class concerned with pregnancy and STI prevention. The program provides a comfortable space for students to discuss, examine, and question Milton’s culture and broader pressures around relationships. Evidently, the program has proven to be a huge success at Milton and will hopefully continue to educate, challenge, and entertain Milton’s students for many years to come.
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