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Explaining the birds and the bees

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Priya Kalapurayil

Priya Kalapurayil, a grad student in public health and medicine, teaches sex education to Chicago Public Schools students through the Communities of Schools in Chicago program.

Learning about the birds and the bees isn’t the most comfortable situation for teens and preteens.

What makes it a little easier is hearing about it from someone other than your regular teacher, says Tonya Maley, a graduate student in public health.

So when Maley heard about UIC’s partnership with Communities in Schools of Chicago, she got involved. The collaboration sends UIC public health graduate students into Chicago Public Schools classrooms to teach sex education to fifth- through eighth-graders.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity — I would really appreciate having an informed teacher who’s comfortable talking about those kinds of things,” Maley said.

Communities of Schools in Chicago connects Chicago Public Schools to programs and services they need — from funding for an arts program to the sex ed talks that UIC students provide.

“The students clear up a lot of myths and talk about the kind of stuff that will get students giggling uncomfortably,” said Kimberley Rudd, communications manager for Communities of Schools in Chicago.

“The fact that they’re closer in age to the students is a real benefit. They can kind of shut down the foolishness in a way that their teachers can’t.”

UIC students, who are paid for each session they teach, learn a curriculum designed by the Communities in Schools of Chicago. They teach topics ranging from self-esteem to sexually transmitted infections, then let the students ask questions.

“I don’t tell them that they shouldn’t have sex,” Maley said. “I keep them informed about their bodies, STIs and how to prevent them. Even if they feel they are emotionally ready, physically there are still dangers out there.”

Maley, who has spoken to about 30 classes over the past two years, is surprised by how well received her talks have been. She was skeptical that eighth-grade girls would sit through a lecture on self-esteem, for example.

“I thought they’d all be too cool for school,” she said. “They’re excited to have their questions answered.”

Alia Ryan taught 87 sessions this spring at seven Chicago Public Schools.

“One of the most rewarding things about teaching is really connecting with the students,” said Ryan, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in public health.

“I’ve gotten letters from students expressing how much the curriculum really did help because they didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

“Being closer in age makes you more approachable than their teachers, who — in their eyes — are ancient.”

Public health and medicine grad student Priya Kalapurayil said her seventh- and eighth-graders were a little rowdy at times, but they were interested in what she had to say.

“The kids were really curious,” she said. “It was a challenge because I have no teaching experience whatsoever. But it got better over time in terms of me being more confident.”

UIC students have connected well with the teens and preteens, said Meagan Brown, health promotion partnership specialist with Communities in Schools of Chicago.

“They understand the need and are really passionate about helping our students,” Brown said. “They go above and beyond.”


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