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If the flu hasn’t hit you already, take this as your warning: it is on the way! Over the past week or so, I can say that many of my students and fellow teachers are becoming sick with either H1N1 or regular cases of the seasonal flu. What once used to be a 24 hour virus of inconvenience has turned into a week’s rampage of high fever, coughing, headaches, and chills. Put this virus into a building with 400 students and 50 staff members, and suddenly you’ve created a school nurse’s nightmare.
Just this past week, the hallway near our nurse’s office seemed to be like a hospital ward: many students hunched over on the bench, waiting to get permission to go home or to get a Tylenol. Teachers have been struck by the virus too—my friend who teaches fifth grade, in fact, succumbed to the flu last week and has been struggling to get back to 100% ever since. Hand-washing, hand sanitizing, and covering mouths during sneezes can only do so much. In fact, what I have come to realize is how the case of the flu this winter is indicative of a larger issue within my school and many other area public schools.
Within our own district, many nurses have been cut to part-time due to budget concerns. My school is fortunate in that we were able to retain our full time nurse, but she is one of the few remaining full time nurses in the entire district of approximately 25,000 students. Furthermore, my school—and several others—lack a comprehensive health curriculum for our students. No student is learning proper hygiene for avoiding the flu and they are certainly not learning about how to take care of themselves as developing adolescents. Our students spend their school days studying the core subjects of math, science, and communication arts to get ready for state standardized testing; however, they do not learn the basics of how to live a healthy lifestyle. Surely we could do more to give our students a well-rounded educational experience.
There is a critical need for health education in middle schools. Statistics show that 41% of eighth graders have had at least one alcoholic drink and 16.5% of eighth graders have tried marijuana at least once (Vatterott, Becoming a Middle Level Educator, 2007). These same studies also show that 24% of middle school students have had sex. If we are not providing our students with a health education that teaches them the dangers of smoking, drinking, and sex, then we are surely setting them up for an unhealthy lifestyle. While I am well aware that there are many demands placed on our schools, I am confident that the health and safety of our students should be a priority. We cannot educate our students if they are missing school due to preventative illnesses (like the flu or a cold) or to long-term conditions, like pregnancy, drug abuse, or alcoholism.
Even though I’d almost not remember the awkward health classes from my middle school years, I know I at least received a foundation for understanding all the changes my body was going through. I also learned the monotonous lessons about hand-washing, getting a good night’s sleep, and how to count my heartbeats. It is a terrible loss to think of how we are creating a generation of students who are not learning about what it takes to lead a healthy lifestyle. The consequence of not having health education in our schools will cost us as a nation, and unfortunately, this impact may not felt for a couple more decades.
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