A trimester-long health elective centered on healthy relationships is set for release in Iowa City high schools next school year.Sue Chelf, the K-12 health curriculum coordinator for the Iowa City School District, said this will be the first time a health elective has been offered outside of the standard health class required by the state for all ninth graders.
Currently, in-class discussions of this topic are only mandatory in the freshman class. Kathy Bresnahan, the health educator at West High, said that currently about six to seven days of interactive discussion are devoted out of a 60-day trimester to the topic of healthy relationships, an estimate described as typical of all local high schools. Chelf said this concept is intertwined within larger units on sexual assault and consent.
“Health class is only required for freshman and so that’s the only time it would be discussed in class,” West High principal Gregg Shoultz said. “[Healthy relationships are] a unit in the health curriculum … it’s not comprehensive, more could be added, [but] I could say that about all of our curriculum.”
Healthy relationships are a topic that is particularly relevant to individuals at the high school level. According to data from loveisrespect.org, one in three adolescents in the United States go through verbal, physical, or sexual abuse from a partner.
“It’s certainly an important issue for adult living,” Shoultz said. “Everyone has to navigate issues of how to deal with relationships and [proper] relationships and what improper relationships are and how to handle yourself if you find yourself in improper relationships …”
Aimed at 10th- through 12th-graders, this new elective will be packaged as a kind of extension from this basic, comprehensive course, Chelf said. It will contain units based on everything from handling rejection, to deciding if a teen is ready to date, to maintaining communication between partners.
“Our focus on this one is kind of two-fold; one of the goals is to teach students relationship skills and to be able to make smart choices about dating relationships and then again to educate and empower our students to prevent abusive relationships by increasing their understanding about teen dating abuse,” Chelf said. “We not only want to stop abuse but we want to be able to prevent it and we want the kids to be able to understand what a healthy relationship looks like and for them to be able to develop and maintain healthy relationships.”