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New Books Take ‘Progressive’ Look at Health

July 31, 2008

By Rachana Dixit, The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.

Jul. 31–Health education is about to become more comprehensive in Charlottesville schools.

City schools will be using new textbooks for physical, health and family life education after the School Board unanimously approved them during its meeting last week, lauding the texts’ comprehensive nature in examining the meaning of good health.

Three books will be incorporated into the curriculum this fall — one each for seventh and eighth grade titled “Teen Health,” and another called “Health” combining ninth and 10th grade education. The Virginia Department of Education has a textbook adoption cycle, where new books are put in place every seven years.

Gertrude Ivory, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Charlottesville schools, said books focusing on the aforementioned subjects “are not part of the recommended schedule, but we have not adopted [new ones] in over seven years.”

Judy Rood, textbook manager for city schools, said the state education department recommends books mainly for core subjects and foreign languages, but not necessarily health-related subjects. She said the recently adopted books were presented to the School Board after an evaluation committee and the public made recommendations.

“I think that the topics they cover are very age-appropriate and cover many issues,” Rood said. “They are topics young people can relate to.”

Board members echoed those sentiments, saying the new textbooks give a much broader view of health and wellness, including chapters on emotional and mental health, family and peer relationships and decision-making.

“It wasn’t only nutrition, it wasn’t only exercise,” board member Kathleen Galvin said. Referring to the book’s “progressive” nature, Galvin added, “If we could follow that when we look at wellness, we’d all be better off.”

However, some board members voiced concern that in relation to the city schools’ curriculum, pregnancy and disease prevention are not sufficiently addressed in the adopted books.

“In the materials I reviewed, I did not find proportionally a large amount of material regarding pregnancy prevention,” said School Board member Colette Blount.

Blount said there was a lengthy supplement about abstinence education, but then the book jumped to discussions on having a healthy pregnancy.

“There was nothing in between,” Blount said.

Rood said that because the books come from national publishers who make sales all over the country, the materials tend to be more abstinence based.

“Locally, we have the choice of designing the aspects we want to concentrate on,” Rood said.

Mary Sullivan, adolescent advocacy and outreach program director for the University of Virginia Teen Health Center, said most health and related-subject textbooks emphasize abstinence education.

“You will not find textbooks that are basically not abstinence-based,” Sullivan said.

She added, “Would I like to have those textbooks to be less abstinence focused? In my view, perhaps yes, but considering how textbooks are marketed and distributed, I wasn’t at all surprised.”

“If they did not have that focus, [publishers] would not be able to sell them.”

Ron Schneider, executive director for The Pregnancy Centers in Charlottesville, said it is important that abstinence education remains the base of family life education, especially because it is indicated in Virginia’s Standards of Learning.

“I have a real issue with the fact that the abstinence program is trying to be shut out altogether,” Schneider said, adding that he thinks there is room for both abstinence and pregnancy prevention education in the schools’ curriculum.

However, Sullivan said she was satisfied with the books given their comprehensive content, saying that the new texts have a “very holistic approach to health.”

Referring to the new texts, Sullivan said, “Having looked at health books in the past, compared to other health books, I was fairly impressed by them.”

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