When it comes to health and sexuality, the Mazzoni Center has its own way of educating.
Yes, please! The Center’s Workshop Series is a comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive, multi-session sexuality and relationship education program designed for students in grades 3-12.
“It focuses on health and wellness and offers age-appropriate interactive workshops that are designed to empower young people to make healthier mental, emotional, social and physical decisions as they grow and mature. “, explains Sultan Shakir, President and Managing Director. at the Mazzoni Center. “Topics include promoting healthy friendships and relationships, digital citizenship, unpacking stereotypes and biases, and improving self-esteem. Sessions guide students to develop critical thinking and communication skills, reflect on their own values, and identify trusted adults and resources in their world. »
And the program varies.
As Shakir explains, each workshop contains content that is age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, and meets National Health Education Standards, National Sex Education Standards, and Pennsylvania Academic Standards. The lesson objectives, materials and activities match grade level expectations.
“Discussions about healthy relationships with third graders revolve around friends and family, while seventh graders and up are also starting to talk about navigating romantic relationships,” Shakir continues. “Diverse family structures and identities are shared through stories in grades three through six, and high school students gain vocabulary and examples to differentiate between gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.”
And with Yes, Please!, as students grow and mature, more information is provided to help dispel any myths or fears, while normalizing the many changes a person can go through during the puberty.
The series requires administrative approval from each school prior to any session being conducted onsite, and one-on-one consultation is provided to each school and organization to better understand their goals, needs, and community.
“Every student deserves a learning environment where all aspects of their identity are respected, affirmed and reflect their experiences. Implementing an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum is just one way schools can help promote a safer and healthier community. Language is power, and we can create opportunities for everyone to be part of the conversation and represented. We know that adolescence can be a different experience for everyone and creating spaces to share diverse perspectives and feelings around friendships, relationships, boundaries and beyond is beneficial,” says Shakir.
The Centre’s President and CEO notes that the series is available to all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. For LGBTQ youth in grades 7-12, the workshops provide accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as information about community resources available to them.
But it is also for those who are not in the community.
“For non-LGBTQ+ youth, the workshops aim to reduce the incidence of LGBTQ-related bullying which we know leads to higher rates of negative factors such as suicidal ideation, depression and drug use and alcohol,” he continued. “We all have a role to play in ensuring that the health and rights of young people are considered and respected.”
The program will always tailor workshops to be the most effective and up-to-date for youth safety, according to Shakir. And also, to create a supportive learning environment. Those who organize Yes, Please! use multimodal options (video, readings, etc.) to meet the needs of the students and adapt to the needs of the school and the young people who participate.
Mazzoni has been providing programming that supports LGBTQ youth for approximately 25 years and LGBTQ-affirming sex education for youth for over 10 years. The series itself has adapted over time.
“As the needs of young people have changed, we have adapted the program to meet the changing needs of young people,” continues Shakir. “Part of this evolution includes adding sessions on digital decision-making or navigating online interactions in a safe and healthy way, both offline and online, especially as more interactions interpersonal are moving into the digital space. The program continues to be developmentally and age appropriate as we strive to educate young people on ways to stay healthy and safe in their friendships and relationships.
There are some misconceptions about educating students about health and sexuality, the biggest being that workshops on healthy relationships and sexuality are largely about sex.
“These workshops are primarily about age-appropriate conversations that give young people the tools and resources to recognize what safety and health can be and to feel a sense of bodily autonomy and self-esteem. The goal is for young people to feel seen for who they are and to be accepted and affirmed for who they are, as well as consent and boundaries being appropriate for everyone, whether in relationships with family, friends or intimate relationships,” Shakir continues.
He also explains that for younger kids, it can feel like conversations about, “Are you okay with being hugged or would you rather have a high-five instead?”“In general, we want young people to be able to name what they feel when a relationship feels good and appropriate, as well as being able to see and name when a relationship feels dangerous,” explains Shakir. “We want young people to have resources on how to recognize this as well as where to go and who to talk to, which could be people at home, people at school or a national text line to help find Resource.” Ultimately, those who work on the program hope that students can come out of this program with a better understanding of themselves, their relationships, and safe and helpful resources that can support their health in the future. As Shakir explains, for younger students (grades 3-6), The Mazzoni wants to help foster “a strong sense of self-worth and boundaries, as well as being able to name trusted people to who to talk about their health and safety”.
Sessions with younger students will also explore the wide range of diverse family structures and promote dignity and respect for all.
Then, for older students (grades 7-12), the hope is that they will emerge from the program equipped with critical thinking skills and tools to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, in particularly with regard to the prevention of STIs, HIV and unwanted infections. pregnancy.
“They will also come away with a better understanding of what consent is and how to communicate their boundaries and respect others,” Shakir continues. “There is no standard sex and relationship education curriculum implemented in the United States, and many states do not even require sex education to be medically accurate. Young people need and deserve a space safe to get accurate, age-appropriate information about their bodies and health.
Shakir also explains why this program is essential. And that’s something that’s been a long time coming: “For LGBTQ+ youth, especially those who don’t feel safe, comfortable, or ready to come out, this program is a space where queer identities and trans are normalized and affirmed, which is essential for a population with such high rates of self-harm and suicide. We hope students of all genders and sexualities can continue these conversations with trusted adults in their lives. The teenage years are not easy for anyone, and having access to information without judgment is a step towards a healthier and safer youth in Philadelphia.