Fourth Graders in Los Angeles Could Define the Future of Sex Ed

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fter Wendy Sellers’s children began attending a Michigan elementary school with no sex ed in the late 1980s, she decided to take matters into her own hands. “I had a pretty bad sex education myself,” she told Broadly, “so I wanted to do better for my kids.” A registered nurse, Sellers volunteered to teach puberty classes to the school’s fifth and sixth graders, hoping her lessons would become a template for teachers by the time her own children reached upper elementary school. Instead, she became a classroom fixture, delivering sex ed lessons to middle and high school students as well.
In the 90s, the state revised its optional Michigan Model for Health curriculum to eliminate the unit on puberty for upper elementary school classrooms. So Sellers, one of the co-authors of the initial Michigan model, wrote a new curriculum herself. In 2002, she released “Puberty: The Wonder Years,” a teaching guide intended to be implemented over fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, giving students an idea of what to expect from adolescence using lesson plans that mature with them over time. Most recently revised in 2015, the program has had an inclusive outlook since the beginning. Sellers uses gender-neutral names when talking about relationships, and early lessons encourage students to think about the negative consequences of gender stereotypes.
“It’s important we teach [young people] about changes that are going to begin,” said Sellers, “so they’re not frightened and caught off-guard by what happens.”
Since its initial 2002 release, schools in 27 states have used “Wonder Years.” But the program’s biggest debut came in September, when it was included on a trial-basis as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s new teaching supplements. The second-largest school district in the nation, LAUSD is responsible for over 640,000 students across 720 square miles.
The program’s young audience, coupled with LAUSD’s national influence among public schools, has attracted a flurry of interest in “Wonder Years” as a way to introduce sex ed to kids at a younger age. Though LAUSD students typically get a basic introduction to puberty in fifth grade, sex education in fourth grade marks a departure for the district, and it’s what separates “The Wonder Years” from similar resources included in package of new supplements.
“We’re excited to be getting any curriculum or resource that we can for elementary school,” said Timothy Kordic, project advisor for LAUSD’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, which has been overseeing the introduction of “Wonder Years” and other materials to the district. “Our textbooks are 11 years old,” Kordic explained just before the implementation. “A lot of things we’re using are really outdated and use old strategies like separating kids [by gender].” Despite numerous requests for them from nurses and elementary schools, Kordic admitted that “medically accurate, current, and non-biased” resources are hard to come by.

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