Empty classrooms sit unoccupied while posters of the food pyramid and a woman’s reproductive cycle collect dust on the walls.
Charts detailing the importance of safe sex and VHS cassettes offering wise advice about peer pressure remain stacked in dusty piles as students walk away from school to visit McDonald’s to purchase a greasy burger and fries.
It has been over a year since Long Beach Unified School District cut health classes out of high schools. Although it is difficult to measure how that has affected those who were unable to take the class, many argue that the consequences have been felt.
“I was really looking forward to health in high school. My sister told me a lot of good things,” said Sarah Bradley, a current Long Beach high school student claims.
California ranks first in teen pregnancies, according to the California Department of Education. With rates these high, many are left to wonder whether cutting health education classes are really the best idea.
“Nowadays, we rely on the current generation to become the nurses of tomorrow,” says Elizabeth Garcia, a former medical assistant at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, “But in my profession, I have encountered teens that are completely clueless when it comes to health and sex because they are not given the right education.”
Soon after health classes were cut, there was a small rise in STD rates such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and early Syphilis in Long Beach among teens, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Since 2011, these rates have seemed to level off but might have done enough to demonstrate the need for a sex education class.
However, safe sex isn’t the only topic of importance in the cut class. Health classes also inform teens on healthy eating and the importance of active living. (To read a prior VoiceWaves story about fast food, go HERE).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises children and young adults to prevent obesity through good nutrition and physical activity. Yet the elimination of health classes in LBUSD will make it difficult for a student to understand what is and isn’t healthy.
Having cut the high school health class requirement, it was agreed that certain health topics will be integrated into other courses and that students, kindergarten through middle school, will not be impacted.
Two years later, some students argue that these “agreements” have not been implemented.
“So far the only health education I have received was some advice from my English teacher telling my class to take care of our bodies,” comments Maritza Ramirez, freshman at Millikan High School.
Similarly, Millikan senior, William Rosas remarks, “I think my first period teacher told us not to drink and drive once. Most of us just shrugged him off.”
Meanwhile, Laura Rivas, a senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, comments that she has seen evidence of health education taught outside of a health class. The information, however, is provided to students enrolled in the Medical and Paramedical Services (MAPS) program at Poly, which is only a small portion of the school’s population.
Just walking down Long Beach Avenue or PCH, teens are bombarded with fast food restaurant chains on every corner and billboards advertising the newest Call of Duty. With all this negative influence, there is nothing supported or encouraged at schools to counteract it aside from the lone Commissioner, who asked to remain anonymous. “Having an understanding of health from more than just reading magazines or from hearing what your friends say is important.”
A history teacher at Poly High who did not want to be named, likewise noted that “cuts to education make our students less competitive when the time comes to apply for college.”
As beneficial as class that covers health is, some argue, however, that the current economic state makes it difficult to incorporate the class into the curriculum.
“Budget-wise the school district may not be in a position to offer formal health classes, but I believe that the students of the district should rally around that,” the Commissioner said. “There are a lot of clubs that the schools offer at the high school level so they can create a health class.”
Due to the budget issues, LBUSD also plans to cut summer school, school transportation and ROTC, and reduce the AVID program and Special Education next school year—changes that are certain to affect students beyond the surface.
To view a comprehensive wellness guide for teens, go HERE.