TUSD's updated Family Life courses will help students navigate adolescence | Guest opinion
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TUSD's updated Family Life courses will help students navigate adolescence

As a former TUSD bilingual librarian and teacher, I am proud to serve our community as a member of the Family Life committee.

When I was a 4th-grade teacher in the late 1990s, I taught Family Life and saw the immense value to our students. As a parent of two girls, ages 16 and 19 (both attending Tucson Unified School District schools K-12), I was consistently dismayed that they did not receive Family Life instruction in any class between 5th grade and 9th grade. From conversations with my 19-year-old and her friends regarding their experience with Family Life curriculum in Health, I was equally dismayed about the quality of the experience and the very limited information that was shared with them. These students were frustrated about the lack of relevancy to their lives and the poor quality of delivery.

Our committee has worked on this content since March of this year and our committee has worked well together. Another committee member and I worked together on the high school curriculum and focused on developing curriculum that was relevant, medically and scientifically accurate, and would provide students with content that would enable them to focus on important topics such as healthy relationships and decision-making skills. We spent a great deal of time reviewing other content and curriculum in order to create these lessons for high school. At our meetings we worked together as a group to review and revise the lessons and you can see the results in the final versions. At our open meetings we also heard from several community members who shared their concerns about the inclusion of certain content in our lessons.

That one lesson, Puberty, includes a section on gender. We worked carefully on the wording to make sure the information is scientifically and medically accurate. I am extremely dismayed at the public outcry regarding this one particular lesson (that has not even been published publicly at this point), and am particularly worried that these voices we are hearing from are not members of the TUSD community and do not have students in TUSD schools. We heard from the same folks at our community forum as well. We also heard from many students and families regarding the importance of this content about gender; students and families who wish to see this included in Family Life. Some of those who spoke were from our TUSD community and others were not. One thing we do know is that our LGBTQ students continue to face challenging circumstances in our schools, often in the form of bullying, and the suicide rates among LGBTQ youth are higher than among straight students. We also know that all of our students are facing an increasingly complex future, full of a myriad of influences.

We need to be able to give our students tools that will enable them to make good decisions for themselves, to understand and confront the influences that surround them, and to make healthy relationships a priority in their lives. I believe that our updated version of Family Life does just that. With a spiraling focus from grades 4-12 on effective communication skills, decision-making, self-confidence and empowerment, overcoming peer pressure, self concept, and refusal skills and assertiveness, we are poised to provide our students with a toolbox full of valuable tools to help them navigate through adolescence.

My priority and my primary concern is to get this content into the classrooms as soon as possible. I applaud the decision to post the curriculum on the TUSD website to receive feedback, as the feedback from the community is important. However, I am concerned that our efforts to provide quality curriculum to our students is being sabotaged by a small but vocal group of people. I am also concerned about the attitudes presented about our LGBTQ students. Whether you believe that these students are gay because of trauma or because of a natural process is irrelevant; what matters is that all students are supported in our schools and that no one is excluded in Family Life curricular content.

My other concern regarding the curriculum is how to ensure that all TUSD 4th-12th graders who opt in actually have an opportunity to interact with this curriculum. Many teachers and students with whom I have spoken about Family Life have commented on how Family Life is not being taught in the schools. As a committee member and as a parent, I want the district to provide training for the new content as well as create a definitive plan for how to verify that every school is teaching Family Life. For those teachers who do not feel comfortable with the content, we need to make sure to find teachers at every school who are willing and able to teach the entire curriculum. This will be a big challenge for the district, and will require a formative plan, but I feel secure in knowing that the TUSD Governing Board, in conjunction with the district, will find a suitable solution.

I am proud of our updated Family Life Curriculum and I believe that the material we have put forth will benefit all TUSD students.

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