Smart choices

Liking school is good for teens’ sexual health, report finds

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Students who like school and care about graduating make better choices about sex, according to a new report from the advocacy group Colorado Youth Matter.

The report, released last week, revealed that students with positive attitudes about school have intercourse with fewer partners and use birth control more often.

Lisa Olcese, executive director of Colorado Youth Matter, said it was the report’s most compelling finding and a call to action for educators.

It speaks “to the importance of engaging the whole student,” she said. “Connectedness at school is a protective factor, so how does each school community think about that?”

The report, which comes on the heels of a New York Times story highlighting Colorado’s surprising success in reducing teen pregnancy, fleshes out state trends in teen sexual activity and pregnancy rates.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Teens who have teachers, relatives or other adults with whom they feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues are more likely to delay sexual intercourse, have fewer sexual partners and use condoms.
  • Latina teens have the highest birth rate among racial and ethnic groups in Colorado, but have also experienced the greatest decline—71 percent—since 2000.
  • A decade ago, Denver and Adams County were among the 10 Colorado counties with the highest teen birth rates. Both have now dropped out of the top 10—closely tracking statewide reductions that observers credit to an initiative to provide long-acting contraceptives to teens and poor women.
  • The counties with the highest teen birth rates are now all rural, though all have much lower rates than the top 10 counties a decade ago.
  • Colorado’s rate of HIV infection among teens increased from 2013 to 2014—most significantly in Denver—but it’s still below national levels.
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are at much higher risk of being bullied or sexually assaulted at school.

The “State of Adolescent Health in Colorado” report is available for $8 from Colorado Youth Matter.

hamming it up

History has its eyes on them: Watch these New York City students perform ‘Hamilton’-inspired raps

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Oluwafunmilayo Famuyiwa, a high school junior from Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences, during intermission at "Hamilton."

They paid tribute to the Boston Tea Party, honored “our first president, the one who made us relevant,” and traded a dizzying array of historical burns between a rapping Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

On Wednesday, students from 15 different New York City public high schools performed raps, songs, and spoken word about United States history on the Broadway set of “Hamilton” — the same stage where Lin-Manuel Miranda made hip-hop history a smash hit.

The students’ performances, and the chance to catch a matinee viewing of the show, were part of a Google-sponsored initiative that allowed 5,000 students across New York, Chicago and San Francisco to see the musical this week. (More than 20,000 students will attend Hamilton this school year, thanks to funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.)

In order to earn a ticket, students had to complete a six-week course about American history and come up with an original piece inspired by the show.

Sitting in one of the first rows during the “Hamilton” intermission, Oluwafunmilayo Famuyiwa, a high school junior from Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences, reflected on her own song. At first, she was nervous to take the stage, she said, but once the crowd began cheering, she started having fun. Her performance zeroed in on some of the events that led to the Revolutionary War.

“They just keep on taxing us. Without even asking us,” the song went. “Guess what? That’s not fair. But the British didn’t care.”

Asked during intermission to assess the show itself, she laughed and said that despite her solid ode to the Boston Tea Party, the actual cast was “way better.”

Here are three of our favorite student pieces:

Get moving

Requiring P.E. for Tennessee’s youngest students would help academics, too, advocates say

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Tom Cronan was a lifelong outdoorsman who was passionate about fitness and its many benefits, both physically and emotionally.

Now, almost a decade after his death at age 64 of pancreatic cancer, a bill in the legislature would honor the East Tennessee educator by requiring that the state’s students spend more time playing sports and exercising during school.

The Tom Cronan Physical Education Act, which unanimously passed the House Instruction and Programs Committee on Tuesday, would serve as a living tribute to the professor emeritus of exercise physiology at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City.

It also would act on research showing that physical education boosts children’s brain development, helps form lifelong exercise habits and promotes overall health and mental wellbeing.

The bill would require all public elementary school students to participate in a physical education class taught by a P.E. teacher at least two times a week.

Currently, Tennessee requires physical education for its K-8 students, but doesn’t specify how much time students should spend in it.

Cronan’s widow Joan, a former women’s athletics director at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, testified to lawmakers this year about the potential impact of physical education on student engagement and obesity. P.E. also could give students life skills that translate to academic success, she said.

“The Tom Cronan Physical Education bill could make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.  “We feel like that this discipline will make a difference.”

The bill is sponsored by Roger Kane, a Knoxville Republican, in the House, and Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican, in the Senate, where it passed the education committee last month. The measure now goes to the finance committees of both chambers.

Though the proposal wouldn’t cost the state extra money, it does come with a collective $253,000 price tag for three smaller school districts  — in Dyer, Hardeman and Carter counties — that would have to hire new teachers to meet the requirement.

The bill isn’t the first to address physical activity in schools, where more rigorous academic standards and preparation for high-stakes testing have challenged educators to strike the right balance.

In 2016, the legislature approved stringent playtime requirements that went into effect last fall. But lawmakers recently voted to roll those back to give educators more flexibility with recess.  But they didn’t scrap the requirements altogether. Under the bill that Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign into law, younger students would be required to have at least 130 minutes of recess a week.