published Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Cleaveland: Health education benefits students

Clif Cleaveland

Early in the school year, I met with a small group of seniors at Signal Mountain Middle/High School to exchange ideas on health education. The students had been assigned my recent column on preventive medicine as the basis of our discussion.

Tennessee's Department of Education mandates a comprehensive health, physical fitness and wellness curriculum from kindergarten through high school. Schools have substantial leeway in how the curriculum is implemented. At Signal Mountain, health is taught as a regular class throughout the ninth grade. Students considered the class informative and useful.

I obtained a copy of "Glencoe Health," the workbook used in the course, read it and answered its many questions to understand the materials presented to the students. The comprehensive text covers nutrition, physical fitness, emotional well-being, growth and sexual maturity, licit and illicit drugs, contagious illnesses and injuries. Readers of any age would find a wealth of useful information in its pages.

As we discussed various themes, it was obvious that these students had paid attention in their health classes. Two German exchange students who were part of our forum had an even deeper background in health topics. Their curriculum included health at each grade level.

The students offered these ideas:

• Healthy eating: Students feel bombarded by ads promoting fast and unhealthy foods. They wish there were always healthy alternatives. They want to know how to find healthy choices in a typical fast-food restaurant where everything seems fried, salty and sugary.

• Alcohol, tobacco, drugs: While acknowledging risks, the students desire more information on the effects of drugs. For example, how should a student manage a friend who has passed out from alcohol excess?

• Safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases: Many parents shy away from discussions with their children. The high school curriculum may be the only source of formal instruction ever for many students.

• Prevention of heart disease, diabetes, cancer: Students are aware of increasing numbers of friends and loved ones with these illnesses. They want more specific information on how they can prevent them. At what age are they likely to experience symptoms of heart disease? Where are they likely to encounter carcinogens?

• Prevention and treatment of sports injury: Whether engaged in a team sport or playing Frisbee informally, they encounter injuries frequently. What skin injuries need immediate care? And what should that care be? What injuries merit evaluation at an emergency room?

• Opportunity to take formal courses in CPR and first aid: While not for everyone, several students wanted to have the skills to respond to emergencies. How should we manage a shooting victim? What should we do if we are the first to arrive at the scene of a traffic accident?

• More interactive materials: They recommended more interactive materials employed to parallel topics in their health workbook. Videos would enliven the text.

• Mentors: They would like a counselor to whom they could bring any health issue or question confidentially without fear of consequences.

• Refresher course: Several recommended an update or refresher course for their senior year when health concerns may be more acute.

Once students leave high school, they are unlikely to encounter systematic health education in college or their job settings. My numerous contacts with students at UT-Chattanooga reveal a wide range of information about health issues from detailed to sketchy. A comprehensive high school curriculum in all aspects of health will benefit students for the rest of their lives.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at

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