New program aims to equip students with tools to make good decisions
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Sexuality, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, emotions; just a few of the things Rhinelander School Board members listed Monday night when asked what they think teenagers struggle with on a daily basis. This exercise was an introduction to Street Smarts, a new part of the freshman health curriculum that will begin this fall, taught by two Oneida County Public Health Department educators.
“Fifteen percent of our freshmen reported that they are having sex and … 26 percent of our sophomores (are having sex),” said educator Meagan Otto. “So this is the time that they really need this education.”
The statistics were gleaned from answers provided by Rhinelander High School students who took the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Other findings show that 21 percent of those students considered attempting suicide in the last year, the teen birth rate in Oneida County is 35 per 1,000, and 10 percent of Oneida County youth were arrested in 2014.
“The program is ultimately trying to help (teens) avoid harmful behaviors, so when it comes to the peer pressure, the sex, the alcohol, the drugs, they are making smart safe decisions,” said Maria Otterholt, the other health department educator who will be working with RHS ninth graders.
Youth Risk Behavior Survey results for Rhinelander
•15 percent of freshman and 26 percent of sophomores reported having sex
•21 percent of the RHS freshman class considered attempting suicide in the last year
•10 percent of Oneida County youth were arrested in 2014
•Teen birth rate (per 1,000) in Oneida County is 35; higher than state average
Otto and Otterhold will be teaching half the class Street Smarts, while RHS health teacher Tyler Figueroa teaches the other half the regular health curriculum. The smaller groups, Otto said, makes the class more personalized and “everyone has the opportunity to speak and practice the skills” they are learning.
Street Smarts was offered by the county health department during the 2016-17 school year as an after school program. Rhinelander is the first school in the county to include the program as part of the required health class, something the pair said the district should take pride in and help promote.
“One question people might ask is, isn’t this teaching the students how to have sex?” Otterholt told the board. “That is a common question that you are going to get and yes, we will be going into all the details of sex, drugs and alcohol. The thing that we really push here is that education does not equal action.”
Like all health classes in the district, parents and students will have the ability to opt out of program, but Otterholt said she hopes parents don’t.
“We all have to understand they are already hearing it from friends, in the hallway or googling information at home,” she explained. “Why not give it to them from another reliable source who have been trained and have degrees in this information so they have the correct information as they move forward. It’s that child’s right to get that information and make those healthy decisions.”
Of the students who took the Street Smarts class after school last year, 100 percent of them said the program provided them with the information they needed to practice safe sex, understand triggers that put them at risk for dangerous situations and understand who they are as a person, including their core beliefs and values.