Sex Ed Program Development to Continue with New Room Visiting Policies

In light of recent room visitation policy changes, many students have been left wondering what improvements have been made to the sexual education curriculum at Andover since Head of School John Palfrey announced his intent to rework the program last spring. It may be happening behind the scenes, but new plans for more formalized sexual education at Andover, including a comprehensive four-year health curriculum, are currently being developed for implementation, according to Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director of Isham Health Center.

“It’s not just that people are talking and nothing is getting done. I do believe that this will be addressed, but this is going to take some creativity and it will take a real analysis of what we want students of Phillips Academy to graduate with, what skills and what knowledge,” said Patel.

At the earliest, the four-year model which will include a sexual education component, will not be implemented until the 2015-2016 school year.

Last spring, Palfrey created the faculty-composed Sexual Education Working Group to investigate and identify possible changes to the sex ed curriculum at Andover. Over the past year, the group has convened to investigate what the school currently offers, and what might be an ideal sexual education curriculum, according to Patel.

For now, the group is looking to expand current offerings and form pilot programs.

“We have been trying to pilot things because right now it takes a bit more time and many other people to be able to change the schedule. If we are going to change the daily schedule, if we are going to change requirements, that takes a lot of time.”

One of these pilot programs, a series of non-mandatory 90-minute seminars about healthy relationships, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and rape, began this spring. Aptly called Senior Spring Fever, the seminars were aimed at giving Seniors vital information they would need after graduation.

“Unfortunately there was not a lot of student interest. I’m sure it is just a busy time of year and it is hard to say that students will dedicate three one and a half hour sessions to something. I do think that the students who participated felt that it was really helpful and a really invaluable opportunity for them,” said Patel.

This past year, Isham staff members and other health educators on campus visited dorms as part of an initiative to facilitate discussions over sexual health issues in parietal talks.

“Now that we are building a staff that feels very comfortable having these conversations and that faculty house counselors are asking and know that we are willing to do this, I think that we could probably cover all of the dorms that want to have a conversation with us next year,” said Patel.

In regards to the new policy that requires upperclassmen to have their light on and doors open during room visits, Patel believes that the new policies should not inform the sexual health education, but rather both should inform and shape each other.

“I do not think that the people who are developing the policies and the people who are developing the education are at odds with each other. I talked to my faculty colleagues and they were all saying the same thing and so I don’t see this being a big disconnect, I just think that some of the conversations that have been happening might not be so obvious [to students],” said Patel.

While Patel said that sexual activity is natural for adolescents, she stands by the school’s stance that sex is inappropriate at Andover.

“There are benefits and risks, and I am not one to say that abstinence is the only way to go. There are benefits to sexuality,” said Patel. “We are not saying you are not adolescents with hormones and curiosity. That is all a normal part of growing, so we don’t want to stop that. But we can’t say that it is appropriate at school.”

Despite the policy change, Isham Health Center will continue to offer the same reproductive health services such as birth control, Plan B and condoms, according to Patel.

Currently, Andover students who enter as Juniors or Lowers receive sex education in one class of Physical Education (PE), three Lower Personal and Community Education (PACE) classes, Biology classes and dorm meetings about room visits, according to Patel.