If you would have told me a year ago that I would be sheltering in place due to a COVID-19 pandemic and talking to you about how I really liked my sex ed class, I would have laughed. But, here we are.
My name is George Eloïse Hosein. I’m a 15 year old Freshman living in Menlo Park, CA. I was educated with Health Connected curricula in both 5th and 7th grades in my private school. Those classes were taught by my English teachers, and I mainly remember the classic anatomy lesson and a condom demonstration using bananas. Although extremely well-intentioned on my teachers’ part, these classes were at best a bit awkward, at worst something worth dreading. Luckily for me, this changed when Health Connected educators Hannah and Kelly taught sex ed at the beginning of my high school journey at TIDE Academy.
TIDE Academy has the unique position of being a totally brand new, small, public school in Menlo Park. Being 1 out of only 100 inaugural ninth grade students in this nascent environment, my first semester was exciting but nerve-wracking, to say the least. I cannot begin to say how fortunate we were to have Health Connected educators come in at the very beginning of the year. Our educators, Hannah and Kelly, offered a common understanding, a language, that we could all draw from and helped set a general tone of honesty and respect in our new school. Their class atmosphere was relaxed and informative. The potentially uncomfortable subject matter was handled in a matter of fact and reassuring way. This balance of vulnerability, authority, trust, and truth-telling is hard for anyone to achieve. For Hannah, Kelly, and their fellow co-workers, this is what they do. This is their training and their passion. We felt it at TIDE and it helped shape our journey for the better.
Fast forward to the present, I am currently entering week three of TIDE’s virtual schooling because of COVID-19. Although I do appreciate some aspects of online learning and am doing my best, I am definitely missing the physical feeling of being in the classroom, surrounded by my teachers and peers. And as I’m sure you’ll all understand, I’ve had a lot of time to think and to reflect, and I’m finding that this new physically isolated reality has given me an even greater appreciation for Health Connected’s full-bodied approach to education. The way they teach reaches all kinds of kids with all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, and learning styles. As an example, I am a tactile learner so the interactive exercises that taught us about methods of birth control were actually fun for me. Honestly, every lesson was so interactive, so multi-dimensional, that it helped all of the kids stay engaged by meeting them at the edge of their comfort zone. The subject matter became somehow less embarrassing, which allowed it to be absorbed.
My memory of interacting physically with my teachers, classmates, and being on the school grounds of TIDE seems more and more like a distant luxury. But you know what shouldn't be a luxury? Sex-ed! Sex-ed should be a regular part of the school system, but it is often neglected and even treated as a running joke amongst students. This is exactly opposite of the way sex-ed should be treated. It should be normalized and treated as any other subject, with respect and an open mind. Why? Because sex ed addresses so many important social issues beyond the basic “facts of life”. It teaches us how to have healthy relationships and how to take care of our bodies and minds as we grow towards adulthood. Health Connected taught me that my voice and thoughts matter and that I have allies around me in the form of trusted adults. This encouragement to seek connection and support gave me courage to advocate for the female students at my predominantly male S.T.E.M. school. I noticed that our school currently does not have free menstrual product machines installed in bathrooms, which struck me as an equity issue. Although I am a pretty reserved person, I brought this to the attention of administrators at my school. We are still working towards a solution, but I am confident that our school will house menstrual product dispensers in all bathrooms in the near future. I believe my decision to act on my thoughts was because Health Connected created an environment where traditionally taboo or awkward topics were normalized.
Imagine if all students in California, Nevada, Utah, Washington, all states in America – had access to accurate sex-ed facts, resources, and were given language around navigating healthy relationships. I would like to see that reality happen. Let’s you and I, together, support Health Connected so they can not only continue to meet the needs of the thousands of students they serve, but be able to offer every student in America the same experience I was given. I want this type of groundbreaking sexual education to become the norm, not a luxury. I want others to learn that verbalizing feelings and emotions is a stabilizing force, not an awkward conversation. And ultimately, and most importantly, I want sexual health education to be given the chance to succeed in doing what I know it can do – in being a fundamental instrument for healthier children, deeper connections, and greater social change.