At Hartford Public High School, A Day Reserved For Healthy Relationships
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
May 16, 2013
HARTFORD —— Lights were off Thursday in the small student center at Hartford Public High School's Law and Government Academy.
Over New Age music, there was soothing talk of resting poses and peace of mind.
"Think about something that's bothering you in your life," Assistant Principal Taina Amaro told several students and colleagues learning yoga. "Something that's frustrating you. Something you want to let go of."
Thursday was Healthy Relationships Day at the academy, where administrators decided to cancel academic classes in favor of wellness sessions and frank conversations on body image to sexual health. One school security officer led a workshop for teenage boys on how to be a man with integrity.
Organizer Kally Moquete, a programs facilitator for the school, said a goal was for staffers to step out of their typical roles and focus a day on developing positive relationships with students.
"A big thing here is getting kids to know they are worth it," Moquete said.
Students began the morning with the Looking In Theatre group, where teenagers from the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts magnet school performed skits and answered questions, in character, about sexual abuse, controlling relationships, "sexting" and other real-life scenarios.
Afterward, school staff led about half of the two dozen workshops offered to students throughout the day, including sessions titled "How to think, act and be a lady," "You are beautiful: Lessons in empowerment," "Breaking the cycle of violence" and "How to make life decisions after high school without having a nervous breakdown."
"We have a lot of insecurities and the meeting helped me feel more comfortable talking to the girls," said freshman Tiffany Escribano, 15, who attended a female-only session on the portrayal of women in mass media. "We were able to connect with each other."
Among the volunteers who led other classrooms were representatives from Planned Parenthood, UConn's Violence Against Women Prevention Program, the Prudence Crandall Center, which supports victims of domestic violence, and True Colors, a nonprofit agency that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
One workshop by the city's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was called "No glove... No love and why!"
Principal Adam Johnson said students are required to take a half-credit of health during high school. With few middle schools offering a health course, that means freshmen who are 14 and 15 are just learning how to use a condom in sex education, Johnson said. By then, many are already having sex.
During lunch, the city's Health and Human Services department had a table set up with free condoms and pamphlets. Some students began wearing stickers and buttons with the initials "GYT": Get Yourself Tested. Several girls also raved about the Zumba session that was taught by the school's art teacher.
But time in the cafeteria revealed that many students were missing Thursday.
The academy's enrollment is about 530 and less than half attended school for the day's sessions, according to Johnson. It is possible, he said, that because of the unique day, they viewed attendance as optional.
Others might have been anxious about the topics. "Are they nervous about talking about sexually transmitted infections? ... Human sexuality?" Johnson said.
In one classroom, security officer Michael Vaught told about 30 boys that a true man respects all women, not only their mothers. And that men must learn how to cope with being disrespected — "because it's coming," he said — without resorting to senseless violence.
"This is happening in Hartford," Vaught said, pacing like a preacher. "In your backyard. In my backyard. On your street corner!"
Ronnie Jenkins, an 18-year-old senior, described Vaught's talk as "inspirational."
"Kids need to hear it," said Bobby Abate, a longtime social studies teacher. "And they need to hear it from adults who look like them ... They need to hear it from fathers — that this is how fathers act. How men act."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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