Advisory at BSGE has been dedicated to the New York City DOE curriculum for HIV/AIDS for parts of March and April. This is BSGE’s first year teaching the curriculum. All six grades follow age appropriate lessons about the virus and various methods of prevention. Using worksheets, lectures and role-playing, advisors dove into the curriculum during everyone’s daily 45-minute advisory period.
NYC Department of Education required all students to take part in the HIV/AIDS Curriculum. According to the DOE website, this curriculum was designed specifically by New York City to “help children and adolescents understand the nature of HIV/AIDS, methods of transmission and prevention, and ways to support friends or loved ones who may be living with HIV/AIDS.”
New York City is dubbed “the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” According to the CDC about half all new HIV infections are in people under 25 years old and amongst high school public schools almost half of the students report being sexually active. The disease is obviously very prevalent and, with one in four teens admitting to not using a condom during their last sexual intercourse, the DOE finds the curriculum is crucial to our generation’s health.
This curriculum is taught to every New York City public school student in the Kindergarten through 12th grade. Students can be opted out of this program by their parents. However, the DOE will not let a student opt out of any one of these lessons except for lessons on prevention. Also, if a student is opted out, then their parents are required to teach them the lesson on prevention at home.
The curriculum, though it is called the HIV/AIDS curriculum, does not necessarily start out with lessons on sex and HIV. In Kindergarten, students learn about the meaning of health and germs. One of the things kindergarteners are taught is a deviation of ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’ which goes, ‘If you’re healthy and you know it, wash your hands.’ Later on, however, the Kindergarten curriculum goes into defining HIV and AIDS, although leaving out sex. All the Kindergarten curriculum discusses is that it is transmitted through blood and is related to “unhealthy” practices. Throughout elementary school, the curriculum goes into making healthy decisions, viruses and how HIV/AIDS has affected society.
In Middle School, the curriculum goes into details about the immune system, and how alcohol and drugs affect the body. The high school curriculum goes into depth about HIV/AIDS, immunity and the affects of drugs/alcohol use. The DOE assures parents “that these lessons are age-appropriate and protective.”
But many people believe that this curriculum was not necessarily a good or helpful thing. One tenth grader says she believes that “the HIV curriculum didn’t give us anymore info than we already had.” Another tenth grader, Jimmy Turturo also agreed, saying that “it was mostly a rehash of what I knew, personally.” For most high school students, it seemed like a waste of energy because it consisted of facts they already knew. Also, 11th grader Sophia Bourara thought that the HIV curriculum could have been made more helpful if “it could relate to our lives and everyday situations. It mostly had to do with completely foreign situations to us.” She also said that “we were barely allowed to ask specific, personal questions that related to our own circumstances.”
Ninth grader, Noreen Calin, added that the BSGE classes preached abstinence more than the sex education class at her prior Catholic school. The DOE curriculum does stress abstinence and instructs teachers to do so too. The introduction in the curriculum booklet says, “Students need to know that at this stage of their lives, abstinence from sexual intercourse and injection drug use is the safest and most developmentally appropriate choice to protect themselves from HIV infection.”
Another concern is the idea of teaching it to 5 year olds. Although, the curriculum with kindergarten students does not talk about sex, it still may be too much for them to handle. Sophia thinks that kids of that age are just too young and “the curriculum might just encourage too much curiosity about sexual activity and they are just too young to have the capability of fully grasping the concept of HIV.” Tenth grader, Heajin Kim says, however, that teaching kids about HIV at that age “is perfectly fine as long as it is age appropriate and not specifically about sexual intercourse.” She also says that it has to be taught more carefully to kids of that age and it is up to the teacher to make sure they don’t get the wrong idea of HIV/AIDs.
Either way, we are required to take part in this curriculum since the DOE believes that it is necessary for us to study the epidemic because “research shows that significant numbers of young people still engage in behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection.” The curriculum pamphlet begins with the inspiring words: “…we hope to hasten the day when HIV/AIDS becomes an epidemic of the past.”