After three years of discussing how to better integrate sexual education into the Andover curriculum, the Biology Department and staff members from the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center have collaborated to incorporate sexual education classes into the Biology 100 and Biology 500 courses.
“We’ve always had [sexual education], but it hasn’t been as aggressive,” said Leon Holley, Instructor and Chair in Biology. “[Previously,] it’s been through the health center or house counselors. As a part of every opening dorm meeting, there’s going to be some mention about parietals and what’s appropriate and not appropriate.”
Andover currently offers education on healthy relationships through courses specific to underclassmen, such as Personal and Community Education (PACE) and Physical Education 200 (PE).
Both the Biology Department and the Wellness Center decided that yearlong biology courses would be the ideal platform for expanding Andover’s sexual education program.
“I think that the Empathy & Balance curriculum, as part of the Strategic Plan, recognized that an obvious place for us to address sexual education here is through our biology courses because… it’s a way for us to pretty much [reach] most students who come through in a four-year or three-year stint,” said Holley.
Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director and Co-Director of Wellness Education, said, “The idea to teach sex ed, or portions of sexual health in biology, has been going on for years… We asked ourselves, What are some courses that we already teach that we might be able to tweak a little bit to bring in more sexual health education?”
Andover’s first interdepartmental sex-ed collaboration between the Wellness Center and the Biology Department occurred last year when nurse practitioners visited a Biology 500 class to implement more sexual health education into the class’s curriculum.
“A few of us – myself, [Jo-Ann] Fortier, [Sarah] Robinson – served as teaching assistants in a contraception lab and really detailed out specific contraceptive methods, talked about sexually transmitted infections and talked about resources on campus. This year, we are doing the same thing,” said Patel.
Robinson, a Nurse Practitioner and Wellness Educator, said, “I taught one period with [Marc] Koolen, [Instructor in Biology,] and it was really fun. The students seemed to be really engaged and asked a lot of questions. This class was part of their reproductive health unit, and this is material that has always been covered in biology, but they did a lab on different contraceptive methods. I was a guest speaker, so the kids could ask more medical-type questions if they wanted to.”
Over the past three years, Andover has been expanding its sexual health education, and incorporating sexual education into biology classes is one way in which the school hopes to continue to develop and enhance what is already offered.
Patel said, “I think it’s crucial [that] we teach sexual education on campus… Our job is to give students the tools they need, the education [and] the knowledge to help them think through scenarios, their own ideals and values.”
Thus far, neither Patel nor Holley have received any negative feedback about the idea of incorporating sexual education into yearlong biology courses.
“I haven’t heard any pushback, and I think it’s because people believe this is important, so just like we need to be teaching academic courses and teaching about drugs and alcohol and managing our emotions and relationships, sexual health is a part of that and actually intertwines with many other facets,” said Patel.
Olivia Picchione ’16, a student in Biology 500, wrote in a message to The Phillipian, “I thought it was awesome. It made the topic of contraception less intimidating and daunting, and actually provoked a lot of conversation between students. I had never seen a [female] condom before, and had heard of other things but never knew how they worked. It just made contraception feel a lot more relatable and less creepy.”
In the future, Patel hopes to expand this enhanced collaboration with the Biology Department while also focusing on a separate four-year health education curriculum for all Andover students.
“In a couple of years, we will hopefully have a four-year curriculum where we’re not just talking about sex and sexual health four or five or six times over the course of somebody’s four-year Andover experience, but rather we would talk about it every year and make it age-appropriate and more longitudinal of a conversation. That’s the vision. That’s the goal, and it’s coming—it’s being implemented as we speak,” said Patel.