• banner



    Home  |  Entertainment  |  News  |  Opinion  |  Sports  |  Archive


    By Christina Tsetsakoy

      Health is a mandatory course for all students in Massachusetts, but with ever-changing topics to focus on, teachers constantly need to adapt their curriculum to stay up-to-date and relevant.  

      In Massachusetts, there are six standard units that are taught in health class: wellness, injury and disease prevention, mental health, nutrition, sex education, and drugs, alcohol and tobacco. 

      Although there are six units that are covered, teachers do have some leeway with how they teach each of these broad topics. 

       “We don’t have one specific curriculum, though we go by the state standards. We actually can manipulate and bring in things that we make by ourselves, and use things that we research,” said health teacher Jennifer Ayers. 

      The standards may help teachers to stay focused on particular topics, but do not hinder teachers from adapting the curriculum in new ways that benefit students. 

      “We align ourselves with the state and national standards, but with that said, we need to recognize that the state standards are over a decade older than most of our students,” said health teacher Nicholas Parianos. “They’re outdated, so we are constantly trying to align ourselves with that while keeping it current.”   

     With research and studies that are constantly uncovering new information in the health and wellness fields, teachers must be sure they are on the cutting edge. 

      “Each year, I spend the summer researching new data and information to keep my classroom up to date on all health trends,” said Ayers. “I have been teaching for 26 years and I am constantly changing every year. When some topics are no longer relevant, I have the ability to change up activities and lesson plans to topics people need to focus on.”

       The health curriculum was specifically forced to change and adapt quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

      “Our wellness teachers always teach from the state standards, but our health curriculum changes with what is going on in the world,” said Ayers. “When COVID hit there was so much information coming out that I had to adapt and change my disease and injury prevention unit. This gave the students a better understanding of what was happening.  I focused on the science of how people get it, how to protect from it, understanding the myth and facts, why people get vaccinated and explained the different vaccinations people get.” 

      New research and trends have also asked teachers to redefine the definition of health and wellness. 

      “For a long time we thought of it as physical wellness, are you sick or are you healthy? Are you exercising, eating right, those types of things, but now, we’re really starting to broaden it out,” said Parianos. “Over the past decade we’re realizing the importance of mental health. The importance of financial literacy and how that influences wellness as a whole. So, [wellness includes] trying to be more well rounded in all aspects, not just the academics.” 

      Although the teachers are putting in a lot of effort to keep the classes up to date, they lack one crucial thing: time. 

      “We both agree that we would love it to be a long year course, especially when new initiatives come into place and they don’t know where it would fit into [traditional core classes],” said Ayers. “It’s challenging on our part; we may love the idea, but what do we take out, what do we get rid of [in the curriculum], because we’d need to do that.”

      Adding more health classes throughout a student’s high school career could be one solution, and could be beneficial for the teachers and students, allowing them to space out and adapt their lessons.

      “Another thing that we had talked about is if we can’t get one year during the sophomore year, break [the overall curriculum] up into different years,” said Parianos. “Obviously, that older cohort is going to be at a greater risk of exposure for all those things, and you are able to have different levels of conversation and discussion around those.”

      Early Childhood Education teacher Kimberly Marini also sees the benefits of teaching wellness to an older group.

      “I wish that the state would give more time to the health classes, [especially] with social emotional learning being in the forefront in a lot of our government discussions at the time,” said Marini. “There are so many important topics that apply to you right at this moment that I wish [students] had another class by their junior and senior year when they’re mature enough to turn around and say ‘these are the questions I am comfortable asking.’”

      Marini’s Early Childhood Education class covers the social and mental development of a child from conception to adolescence. Although the class is a year-long elective, the focus on health and wellness means the curriculum for this class rarely stays the same.

      “It’s never standard from year to year, because there's always something new that’s new that’s coming out,” said Marini. “There are theories that have been either debunked or we’re looking at again. The standard baseline will be our basic philosophers that we start off with.”

      Although time is a crucial factor in improving these classes, creating an accepting environment is also important, especially with the sensitive topics that come up in these health and development classes.

      “I think, one, having the time, but two, allowing students to know that nothing is off the table, that you’re not going to shock me or make me feel uncomfortable,” said Marini. 

      Allowing students to ask questions is vital for this learning environment, especially since these topics are so relevant to their personal daily lives. 

      “I’ll always ask students to ask about what things they would like to know,” said Ayers. 

      Health classes are crucial aspects of a student's education. Students learn about not only their physical wellness but their mental wellness as well. Teachers of these courses are creating lessons that move far beyond the academic.




  • Thanks for visiting our digital publication!

    Return every Friday for new features, reviews, opinions, sports coverage and more.


    Got news? Got feedback? 

    We'd love to hear from you!

    Email us!