Ohio has no statewide curriculum for health and physical education. There are efforts underway in the General Assembly to get everybody on the same page, but in the short term, it appears Ohio will continue to have no common standards of health education -- and no proficiency testing.
WKSU's Daniel Hockensmith reports:
BRIANNE: Well, we've had three different focus groups ....
Eighteen-year-old Brianne Paumier is a student at Crestview High School in Columbiana County. Tall, blonde, fit, and upbeat, she's the student representative on the local board of education. One of Brianne's achievements this year has been getting school vending machines to offer healthier snacks.
BRIANNE: We have yogurt, apples ... and then we still have a few candy bars, but we tried to limit that. We also have peanut butter and jellies, Chex Mix, the baked chips instead of the regular fried potato chips. And we also have granola bars, energy bars ....
That healthy approach to snacking carries over to the drink machines.
BRIANNE: The milk machine; we have the regular milk and then we have the chocolate milk. And this year we got two kinds of cold coffees, and they're 99 percent fat-free and they're low in sugar, so they're still healthy enough for us to be able to sell them with our wellness policy.
Like an increasing number of school districts, Crestview Local has adopted a "wellness policy," to ensure students at all levels can make decisions that will positively affect their lives. Watching a game of kickball in the high school gym, Superintendent John Dilling says the policy had input from students, parents, and teachers -- even a nearby hospital.
DILLING: When we look at what is involved in in the wellness of our students, we look at all aspects -- the physical, the mental, and the social activities that students are involved in. So, in our case, we try to provide students with opportunities to be involved in the community, to be involved in school and also address the physical aspects of it, which is their healthy eating habits, their physical well-being, and those types of things.
Ohio does not require a standardized health curriculum; there's merely a requirement that students take health classes. So local districts have to put together the best programs they can, largely on their own. Claudia Grimes coordinates health and physical education in the Akron Public Schools.
GRIMES: We use health standards that are put in place by the National Association of Sports and Physical Education. Then our curriculum is based on those standards. Those basically show us the guideline of what we should be teaching -- the rubrics, the standards, et cetera.
Grimes is a teacher "on assignment," because Akron schools can no longer afford a full-time health and Phys. Ed. coordinator. Many districts still rely on the old standby of having a gym teacher or coach pull double duty teaching health.
Basketball coach Greg Bryte has just given group assignments to 20 students at Rootstown High School. Bryte says things have changed in recent years: Topics that used to get the brush over now are the mainstays of health class. There are a lot more areas to cover. But time remains the coin of the classroom.
BRYTE: You know, I'm not going to worry about hair care, and fingernail care and those types of things. But I'm going to hit upon the Sex Ed, the drugs and alcohol, the smoking " those things that area really going to impact a person's life and overall health -- and have health for a lifetime.
Critics of Ohio's health education standards point out students are not tested on their health proficiency, and that Ohio doesn't mandate Sex Ed, except to require instruction on venereal disease. Taba Aleem of Planned Parenthood of Summit, Medina and Portage Counties says it's a system that flunks when under scrutiny.
ALEEM: So often health or health education is kind of put aside and maybe of shoved into one month during the year and the teacher calls up suddenly: "OK, I've got to get my unit done."
Planned Parenthood offers Sex Ed programs, featuring various forms of birth control, but the organization's support of abortion rights upsets some parents. In response, school districts have sought out abstinence-only programs, including Abstinence the Better Choice. Cheryl Biddle, the Akron-based program's executive director, says her classes don't mention contraception, but they do offer other health advice.
BIDDLE: Abstinence programs address alcohol, tobacco and drug abstinence. We look at it as an area of four "risk factors" and help the children understand that they are connected. And when they make a good and healthy decision for abstinence until marriage, we encourage them also to make that decision for alcohol, drug and tobacco abstinence.
Governor Ted Strickland recently proposed ending state funding for abstinence-only programs. Aleem says Planned Parenthood thinks that's a move in the right direction.
ALEEM: I think that's the way it should be. I think kids need access to complete or comprehensive sexuality education. This includes abstinence. It's not like Planned Parenthood does not include abstinence in every one of our presentations, even on birth control. Part of the birth control, the first segment is devoted to abstinence.
Several Summit County districts have moved beyond the debate on Sex Ed, contracting with, Akron Children's Hospital for a more contemporary program that expounds on relationship issues, specifically dating violence. The hospital's Karen Mascolo says it's popular with young adults.
MASCOLO: And we go in and talk to students about healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships: What they look like. What are the red flags? How do you get out of a dangerous relationship? And it's a really, really important program because we do know through research that students who are involved in violent relationships as teens will most likely go onto be involved in domestic violence situations as adults.
KEATON: I took health class in high school. But back then we had only the five food groups and it was very different than today.
Jennifer Keaton of Canton has put five children through city schools; she says teachers are right to give students as much age-appropriate information as possible about health and fitness, so they have "healthy habits created now."
KEATON: I'm all for that and I think anything they can to progress toward that goal is a positive.
But don't expect a statewide health curriculum to be mandated soon. Dewey Chapman, superintendent of Portage County's Education Service Center, says that kind of central planning would go against Ohio tradition.
CHAPMAN: I don't know the benefit of the state saying, "This is what you teach -- and this is all you teach." I think the principals of school districts and certainly the boards of education -- the principal and vision on that was always so there could be local control.
State School Board member Deborah Cain of Uniontown says there's a more practical reason why the state can't ram a common health curriculum " much less proficiency testing " past local school boards.
CAIN: With the emphasis right now on testing the core curriculum areas: English, reading, science, math, social studies and such; those areas are mandated, not only by the state, but by the federal government with the No Child Left Behind ... So until either we decide to put health education into, for instance -- and sometimes it is -- into the science curriculum, right now I think we'd have to find some room to put those standards in, in terms of testing.
A statewide coalition is advocating change, through voluntary adherence to an eight-point health education plan developed by the Centers for Disease Control. And a bill recently introduced in the Ohio Senate would require schools to provide daily Phys. Ed. in grades K-6, as well as mandating that students in grades 7-12 complete 120 hours of gym, to graduate.