Why students should not opt out of health class

Graphic by Griffin Jones '18

Graphic by Griffin Jones ’18

Since the fourth grade, each spring the boys and girls would be sent to different classrooms during what would have been English class, and we took our mandatory, separate health classes. But as soon as high school rolled around, the tables turned dramatically, and I learned that by partaking in an additional English class, I would be able to opt out of taking health all together.

Initially, this seemed like great news. By taking honors journalism my freshman year, the required prerequisite for Tower, I didn’t have to take one semester of health all throughout high school. I was killing two birds with one stone.

That is until I wrote a story this past week about South’s health program and its focus on teaching about consent. Mid-interview with Nicole Westfall, South’s health teacher, I realized that by skipping health, I wasn’t gaining the knowledge necessary to make smart, healthy decisions as I prepare to go off on my own in the next couple of years.

“They are not getting that material and linking it back to abstinence, or talking about how to protect themselves from getting STDs, and I think that is a big concern that kids are opting out from that,” Westfall told me.

My fellow peers and I (even teachers sometimes), often make jokes about how the things we learn in class will never be useful to us in the real world.

But health is useful and important. When I was interviewing Mrs. Westfall about how she teaches consent in her class, she mentioned that she focuses on teaching her students about Michigan’s consent laws, because if not followed correctly, a teenager could potentially be convicted of rape.

I was astonished by the fact that a class that teaches high schoolers about laws that if unknown could potentially ruin someone’s life, and teaches about how to make smart decisions when it comes to avoiding dangerous drugs, STDs, and unwanted pregnancies could possibly be skipped legally.

During this interview I also realized that health class, which isn’t known for having an abundant amount of homework, was vital. Although I’m not in a position in which I need to take health, I’ve decided I’m going to before I leave South at some point, because this is one of the few classes that’s guaranteed to teach you things you will need to know throughout your life.

Health class teaches students about dangerous drug prevention, HIV prevention, STD prevention, how to avoid unwanted pregnancy through abstinence and the use of contraceptives, and about the importance of consent and Michigan’s laws related to consent .

A class that’s only one semester long with little homework, that could potentially save your life, should by no means be optional.

I would hope that more students who are capable of opting out of health decide to take it after all, and ultimately, I hope that the state of Michigan makes health class mandatory. After all, it’s only one semester out of the eight we have here, and it teaches students things they’ll need to know to keep themselves safe for the rest of their lives, and especially as we all go off to college.