November 11, 2012 Post

People ask me what I’ve been doing since September 1st. The answer often depends upon the day, especially since Jodina recommended I take 2 months to familiarize myself with everything that is UrbanPromise. However, one activity that has been steady – and thankfully has added structure to my weeks – is teaching health at the high school, UrbanPromise Academy (UPA). My profile pic shows me in class with some of the sophomore students.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started teaching, which I actually began this past spring on a volunteer basis. Would I be able to catch and hold their attention? Would what I taught resonate with them, or would it feel like jumping through a hoop, much as I remember feeling when I was in high school? I guess I shouldn’t have worried too much – I have enough gross nursing stories to keep any teen awake and oriented through 50 minutes of class twice a week :).

In one class the focus this first quarter was mental and emotional health and illness. In the health book there is a one page survey rating the amount of stress experienced in the past year. Many of you heard this in church one Sunday when Bill mentioned it in a sermon, but I was stunned by the results. Each life event was given a numerical value, for instance the death of a family member was 92 points, while a holiday is 25 points. Items included death, moving, changing friends, as well as starting a new school year, poor grades, major holidays, etc. Any score over 200 meant there was significant stress that warranted intentional intervention. In this class of 10, the majority of the class scored between 600-900, with 2 kids scoring over 1000! Remember, this was only stressors in the past YEAR. While the kids were taking it I heard, “what if more than one family member died this year?” “how about if there were family members and close friends dying?” “what if I moved more than once?”

The student who scored 1157 has incredible difficulty sitting still in class – actually it is impossible to sit still in class. And yet this student pays attention, always giving a correct answer when engaged. This goes along with the research I have been reading about what occurs in the traumatized person. It’s called autonomic nervous system dysregulation. The autonomic nervous system functions below our consciousness; when it is in dysregulation, there is a constant battle between chemicals which prepare for fight or flight and chemicals which prepare for relaxation. The other student who scored over 1000 stays calm and quiet, rarely making a blip on teacher radar. This student prefers to hold it all in and is wary of those who encourage discussion.

I was so shocked by these scores that I gave it to a second class of students. Here the scores were less than 1000 but most were in the 300-700 range. When some of the students in both classes were asked recently how it felt to take a survey like this, responses included, “I had no idea I had so much stress in my life, and I am not happy to know”; “it made me want to talk to someone”; and “you can’t think about it too much, you just have to keep going”. Knowledge of this has led me to discuss what stress looks like in day to day life as well as coping mechanisms. I have also started my first support group for a few who have had major losses in life.

I have also been teaching some sex education. Most of the students who attend UPA have come from public high schools, not from Camden Forward School, which is UP’s k-8 school. Students tell me they have never had frank discussions about sex in school before, despite the high rates of teen pregnancy in the city. I guess this doesn’t surprise me – I have a colleague (nurse practitioner) who has been working in the public school health clinics. She tells me that the schools have daycare centers for students to drop off their kids, but that the clinics are discouraged from prescribing birth control, and are not allowed to dispense condoms.!!!!!

Anyway, here are some of the myths I’ve been dispelling:
1. Depoprovera is bad for young women because their hormone levels aren’t ready for strong medicine (Depoprovera is an injectable birth control that is extremely effective for at least 12 weeks and is well tolerated)
2. Even if you are taking birth control you can’t have sex too often because the sperm will override the medicine and make you pregnant
3. Tampons aren’t good because you can’t urinate while they are in (a general lack of knowledge about female anatomy) There are more, but I figure that’s graphic enough for now!

What I have been pleased to discover is that quite a number of young women at UPA believe that abstinence is the way to go for now, so that their futures are not derailed by pregnancy. That speaks to the message UP is so great at delivering, which is that each of these kids DOES have a future, CAN live past 18, has a RIGHT to go to college. But I am going to make certain that every teen is empowered with the knowledge of birth control options so that intelligent, informed decisions can be made.

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