SHERYL-AMBER EDMONDSON, MSED - WISE/CRAFT COORDINATOR
When I entered the classroom as an English instructor, truth speaking was at the core of my educational philosophy. While some educators relied on invoking fear for classroom management, which ultimately erodes trust and undermines respect, I was fearless in my commitment to sharing truths. Education is, in fact, a pursuit of truth and because my classroom was student-centered, my students were also welcome to share their own truths. That is how our day began. Each day we’d enter the classroom and a quote by truth seekers such as W.E.B. Du Bois or Henry David Thoreau would be plastered across the front of the room. The task? Students were required to Get Meta! with the quote—writing about their thoughts, questions, connections and interpretations of it. Of course, in true teacher fashion, I had my students share their responses aloud. That’s when it got real. I found my students excited to come into class each day, even featuring the Quote of the Day on their Snapchat and Instagram accounts. I quickly noticed that everyone’s favorite part of getting meta was connecting the quote to their own lives. An educator can teach strategies for literary analysis, but their personal connections, their stories, were theirs to own and to speak. When one person spoke our job was to listen, connect and give advice if requested. What my students, and students across this world need, is a classroom that augments their voices and a curriculum that transcends the schoolhouse. What students everywhere want to know is, how does this apply to my life?
The conversations that lasted the longest were generally focused on relationships, community violence and friendships. I listened as they spoke and validated one another’s stories. Soon, I became their adviser and confidant. They often told me truths they’d never spoken before—of their relationships, sexual identity and friendship woes. I must say, it was my greatest honor as a teacher, to be their audience. But the year flew by. My students moved on to high school, and I moved out of Philadelphia. Now, I find myself at the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, working to institutionalize sex education. The arguments in support of, and in opposition to comprehensive sex education debate beliefs, religion, evidence, research, parent voices and even sometimes educator voices. BUT because truth speaking is inherent to my character as an educator, I needed to know, what do youth think about sex ed? If my English students were interested in discussing relationships, sexual identity, sexual violence and more topics on the spectrum that is comprehensive sex education, then surely these students must thirst for that same space. Indeed, they did.
One student attending the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School, commonly known as Sci High, vocalized his views on sexual health education during implementation of our comprehensive sexual health program, Believe In Youth – Louisiana (BY-LA). I quickly identified JL in the all-male classroom. He seemed well-versed, passionate and even excited about the topics presented. After the session, JL and I had a brief, but enlightening conversation on his views regarding sex education. As predicted, JL was a huge supporter.
I think it’s important for a person to learn about what they’re getting themselves into when they have sex. And also, they need to know if they want to do it for sure for sure or not…I mean, it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things I did not know that could happen…now I’m more cautious of whatever I do. I haven’t had sex yet so I think it’s pretty helpful.
Aha! Comprehensive sex ed DOES delay the onset of sexual intercourse! Beyond the research and advocacy was a young person speaking his unfiltered truth. That, for me, was more powerful than anything I’d read, heard, or seen—it was the physical manifestation of the product of our work. Comprehensive sex education is a vital part of the public schooling infrastructure; it is the bridge that unites home and school. It makes space for students to receive the truth of reproductive and sexual health and share their own. But what about parents, I wondered. Just to be sure, I had to ask JL, "Do you talk about it with your parents?" His response? "I don’t, but they talk about it with me."
 Name hidden to protect the identity of a minor