Tahoe school incorporates sexuality into curriculum
While the Florida state Senate prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity,” one Tahoe private school is bringing the discussion around sexuality to the forefront.
The Tahoe Expedition Academy, a private K-12 school that’s served Tahoe’s adventurous adolescents for the last 11 years, implemented sexuality into its curriculum this year.
Just in time, according to the school’s head, David Maher, who said the new curriculum reimagines a holistic approach to adolescent education and mental wellbeing after the trauma of the pandemic.
The expedition academy is fully accredited, staffed by 30 teachers serving 215 students in the Tahoe area. According to its mission statement, “TEA students use meaningful real-world experiences to build not only their intelligence quotient but also their emotional and adventure quotients as well. In the process, TEA has redefined how students and teachers realize their full potential and make a positive impact on the world around them.”
That is why, Maher said, administrators and staff integrated sexuality into their educational approach following a student-led diversity conference in November.
Maher said one parent at the school is one of the mental health clinicians who helped created Well Beyond Academics, a nationwide nonprofit that helps elementary, middle and high schools be better conduits for not only math and science, but social values.
According to the academy’s press release, the nonprofit and their sexuality specific curriculum called P.R.E.P. (Puberty, Reproduction, Empowerment and Perspective) is designed to equip students with the life skills required to care for one’s own emotional and physical health, as well as the health and wellbeing of others while engaging in platonic, sexual and romantic relationships.
“It offers fourth- through ninth-grade curriculum and covers everything age level appropriate,” Maher said, adding, “It’s a spiraling curriculum, as kids come back to areas year after year, building inclusivity and understanding of sexuality, health and wellness — which contributes to overall student health.”
TO SUPPORT, CHALLENGE AND INSPIRE
Maher said P.R.E.P. is helping the academy embody its mission to support, challenge and inspire.
“Because of our location,” Maher said, “we attract families who are interested in a healthy lifestyle for their children in terms of wellness — mind, body and soul.”
Maher said the school focuses on character, academics and adventure, so “a lot of our pedagogy — a lot of our subject matter — is not about how subjects occur in isolation, but how subjects are integrated into other areas.”
Following school-closures and – for most — at least one year of remote learning amid the two-year COVID-19 pandemic, Maher said educational approaches that incorporate and prioritize the student’s mental health have never been more important.
“Abraham Maslow is well known for creating the social hierarchy of needs,” Maher said, adding that the American psychologist’s model for self-realization indicates that students’ socio-emotional needs must be met before they are ready for academic learning. “Kids are coming out of a difficult year.”
Kids have different backgrounds and future trajectories, Maher said.
“We have a fundamental belief that a every member of our community should feel a sense of belonging, we support people in our community regardless of ethnicity or sexuality,” Maher said, adding, “That informs a lot of what we do both in a classroom setting and across the board.”
Jenene Slatt is the TEA parent who helped the school connect with a healthy approach to talking about human sexuality in the classroom. She’s also a licensed marriage and family therapist. According to a press release, Slatt created Well Beyond Academics seven years ago with her co-founder, Jennifer Krasner, a licensed clinical social worker, “with the goal of creating a healthier generation one community at a time.”
“What really makes us different is that we come from this foundation of mental health,” Slatt said. “We have not heard of any other sexuality curriculum that is mental health informed and has been developed by therapists. We know that puberty is not just about changing bodies, there’s so much that happens socially and in the brain.
“Sexuality education is a huge opportunity to focus on overall wellness, to illuminate and emphasize students’ rights, responsibility and respect for self and others,” she added. “Our comprehensive education focuses not only on educating youth about growing into adulthood, but additionally has the goal of preventing bullying, suicide, mental illness and partner violence.”
Slatt said sexuality education that focuses on a married, heterosexual couple engaging in sex and birth is not the reality for many in the world today.
“We talk about sexuality diversity: gender, orientation, family make-up, family values, family rules, culture, religious beliefs, et cetera,” Slatt said. “We emphasize that what might be a healthy decision for one child might be different for another child because of all these variables and knowing that no one is the same.”
Slatt said age-appropriate, delicate-but-casual conversations on sexuality help destigmatize topics that previously inspired shame.
“When you have an adult who can respond non-judgmentally, who uses language that is inclusive and fosters belonging, and can be really relaxed and comfortable with what they’re teaching, it creates a safe learning environment and encourages kids to go to trusted adults in their lives with their curiosities rather than the internet or social media for guidance and support,” Slatt said.
Maher said he hoped the school’s adoption of the curriculum would inspire other campuses — public and private — to meet and educate students in a shared reality.
“It is absolutely our most fervent hope what we’re accomplishing on our campus would be something that’s recognized as beneficial elsewhere,” Maher said.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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