Sex Education: Is Schreiber Doing It Right?

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Josh White

A Schreiber student at a local Rite Aid.

According to a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of American teenagers and 28 percent of New York teenagers are sexually active. According to another 2013 survey by the U.S. Department of Education, 91 percent of U.S. students are enrolled in public schools. This data underscores the consequence of sex education at public high schools like Schreiber.
Schreiber students participate in sex education units in ninth grade and eleventh grade health classes. The curriculum follows national and New York standards: it is “comprehensive, medically accurate, and age appropriate.” Some topics that the health department addresses include: qualities and values related to healthy and safe relationships, physical and emotional risks of relationships, preventing pregnancy & STIs, sexual anatomy and physiology, human development and sexual orientation. Teachers use traditional lessons and class participation to tailor classes to the realities of modern relationships and teenage culture.
“Students are encouraged to treat themselves and their bodies with respect,” said health teacher Ms. Janine Kalinowski. “This is in regards to all areas of wellness, including sexual health.”
The health department favors a curriculum that both encourages abstinence and includes contraception information (sometimes called an abstinence-plus curriculum) over an abstinence-only program. The latter has faced criticism, and has not proved to be effective in delaying teenage sexual activity or reducing teenage pregnancy in districts where schools implement it. Health classes try to find happy mediums.
“The curriculum can hit personal, cultural and religious beliefs—we have to be sensitive and respectful to these diversities,” said Ms. Kalinowski, “Some health educators tend to focus only on the extremes—for example, teen pregnancy, severe cases of sexually transmitted infections, and rape. While we cover these topics—we spend ample time discussing components of healthy relationships and constructive choices that can be made that demonstrate a sense of responsibility and respect.”
Both students and staff members understand that many students are involved in sexual intercourse or other sexual acts.
“Time is of the essence, since many teens are having or are going to be having sex in the near future,” said senior Haley Sambursky. “So they need to be educated on all the things that go along with it. It’s important that the teachers put out as much information as they can and hope that it sticks.”
Students are equipped with knowledge that will hopefully prevent future mishaps, and they agree that sex education in high school is important. However, many students feel that Schreiber’s sex education program is not comprehensive enough. In a poll of 135 students, 64 percent felt that the ninth and eleventh grade sex education units were too short, or lacked detail. Only 44 percent felt that Schreiber sex education was adequate.
“I think that sex is either made out to be a definite no-no or completely ridiculous,” said senior Ariel Waldman. “To be honest, it doesn’t really prepare you for the real world and scares a lot of students. There’s also a lot of extraneous information, like different types of birth control that aren’t effective. They’re teaching us birth controls we shouldn’t use instead of the ones that we should, which is pretty counterproductive.”
Many students do not remember the information they learned in middle school, but recall information from their freshman and junior year health classes. When asked about the differences between this information, a majority of seniors replied, “No difference.” Even so, some students believe that there was a difference between the ways in which the two classes were taught.
“Ninth grade was so much more awkward,” said senior Ariel Waldman. “I think freshmen are more naive than upperclassmen about the topic because of their age, so sex ed was definitely more daunting. We didn’t go that much into depth as freshmen, or maybe we did and I just don’t remember. That’s the thing, I feel like sex ed is probably something you should remember or else, what’s the point?”
Many students find themselves listening to the same information year after year, with what they suppose to be minimal changes.
“Although sex ed is necessary, it gets a bit redundant,” said senior Haley Sambursky. “They teach you the same things over and over again. In seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, and eleventh or twelfth grade. No new materials is covered, and the repetition turns everything into a joke, because everyone already ‘knows’ everything from the last three or four times they heard it.”
Neither the national nor the state standards for health education listed on the school’s website refer to specific sex education requirements. Moreover, condoms are not available to students on school grounds.
Parents also offered their views on the proceeding of their children’s health classes. Schreiber parents believe that it is helpful for students to learn about sex education in class, but some have mixed feelings about learning about sex in a co-ed classroom.
“Sex education should be taught in high schools, but it shouldn’t be taught in mixed or co-ed classes,” said Schreiber parent Ms. Vlada Alexeeva.
However, most parents support the idea of learning about sex education and STDs at school.
“I believe that sex education helps teens take precautions and avoid attaining any disease that comes from sexual contact,” said Schreiber parent Ms. Shirley Rayn.

LGBT Sex Education

On a different note, some students feel that Schreiber helps students make good decisions regarding sex and contraception, but lacks appropriate LGBT sex education that goes beyond simply recognizing different sexual orientations and genders. Although the Dignity for All Students Act, passed in 2010, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, there are no New York State standards in place that require LGBT sex education.
“Sexual education should revolve around teaching students about all forms of healthy sexuality,” said senior and former GSA vice president Olivia Mann. “While I am thankful for Schreiber’s lessons on abstinence and PIV sex, I believe that LGBT students are left in the blind. Students should be offered unbiased information about all healthy sexualities, despite any political influences. And since this is rarely offered, LGBT students are uneducated about how to use their bodies, and more importantly, how to protect themselves.”
LGBT youth are disproportionately affected by negative sexual health experiences. According to the CDC, young gay and bisexual men accounted for 19 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States and 72 percent of new HIV infections among youth in 2010. Young LGBT women in high school are more likely to have experienced coerced sexual contact, and transgender HIV rates are more than four times the national average. Transgender youth are also far more likely to experience sexual violence.
Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) makes Safe Schools Initiative presentations for freshman health classes, but these workshops normally discuss the importance of creating safe spaces for LGBT youth and not LGBT youth sex education in particular. Although the school fully supports the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), one of the first on Long Island, and its efforts to raise awareness and support for members of the LGBT community, this awareness campaign has not spread to health class sex education units. The health department has declined offers from the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) to make LGBT sex education presentations.
Some students believe that LGBT sex education would benefit not only LGBT students, but also the student body as a whole.
“I believe that we definitely should learn more about about LGBT sex,” said senior Akari Shimura. “To be quite honest, I don’t really know much about the subject and I believe that it would be beneficial not only students who will likely participate in this form of sex, but also to all other students who will gain a greater awareness of the topic.”
Students also feel that health classes do not provide safe sex information for both non-straight and non-cisgender students on the gender and sexuality spectrums.
“If it were discussed in class, maybe students would feel more comfortable and it wouldn’t come off as taboo,” said Mann.
Even so, there are silver linings. Sixty-one percent of students polled felt that Schreiber created a comfortable learning environment for discussing sex education.
“I think that they do it as best they can,” said senior Haley Sambursky. “People tend to not take health class seriously, but the health teachers still need to educate the students on the consequences that could result from having sex, like STDs and pregnancy, and the emotional aspect of it.”
Students remember specific facts as well.
“What health has really taught me is that venereal diseases are permanent and scarily gross,” said junior Mikayla Hyman. “Also, I recently found out that having sex can give you a higher chance of getting cancer because about one half of the country is carrying something called VNA.”

Community Resources

In the event that students feel they are not receiving adequate sex education in their health classes, or want extra information, a multitude of online and community resources exist that can provide students with the information they need to be fully informed. These websites and facilities range from small organizations to large-scale establishments, but all have a common goal: to educate people on sexual health and offer the services they need to maintain that health.
“I always consider the number one resource to be your parents and second to be your teachers,” said health teacher Ms. Pat Kosiba. “If you don’t get the information you need from these sources, I wouldn’t advise students to simply Google any question they have, but instead to visit the site or facility of a reputable source, such as the Nassau County Health Department and Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood is a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge of all individuals in sexual wellness, providing healthcare to those in need, and advocating policies that keep services of this sort available.
Information regarding almost any aspect of sexual education is available at Planned Parenthood facilities or on their website, PlannedParenthood.org. The website has teen-specific information and forums. The closest Planned Parenthood, located in Glen Cove, provides birth control, emergency contraceptives, pregnancy tests and services, STD testing, treatment and vaccines, abortion services, and general reproductive checkups and tests for men and women. These services go beyond what Schreiber provides, and can therefore be valuable.
Planned Parenthood offers additional opportunities for teens through their volunteering and employment programs. Schreiber graduate Arianna Kosloff (‘13) interned at Planned Parenthood for her senior experience and observed what the organization can do to fill in the gaps of public school sex education first hand. She was a part of the Teen Advocacy Program (TAP), which gathers students to participate in awareness events.
“The other teens that I met through the program were very relatable and excited to be learning everything they could,” said Kosloff. “We were eager to pass what we learned onto ours peers by visiting heath classes throughout Hempstead and talking about Planned Parenthood.”
A second resource for teenage sexual education is MTV’s It’s Your (Sex) Life (IYSL) public information campaign at itsyoursexlife.com, launched in 1997 to promote responsible sexual health decisions among teens. Certain MTV programs, including Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, support IYSL and spread information about the real facts of teen pregnancy. The IYSL website contains entertaining and informative videos and blog posts that discuss various topics of sexual education in-depth, just for teenagers.
Another website that relays information to teenagers about sexual health is stayteen.org, a part of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. This organization focuses on laying out the statistics about teen pregnancy and relationships, and encouraging teens to make informed decisions that allow them to enjoy their youth.
Other online sexual education resources for teens include Scarleteen, Sex Etc., Like It Is, Go Ask Alice, TeenSource, Young Women’s Health, Advocates for Youth, and SIECUS.
No matter what type of information students need regarding sexual education, a resource exists to supply it—whether or not they feel Schreiber can adequately supply it.