Pali High Health Class Addresses Teen Issues

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

A potential change in the health class graduation requirement inspired some intense public comment at the May 17 Palisades Charter High School board meeting.

Health teacher Susan Ackerman spoke for two minutes about the importance of her class, which teaches skills to combat suicide, depression, sexual assault, relationship violence, obesity, food disorders, anxiety/ stress, child abuse, chronic disease, HIV/AIDS, drunk driving, and tobacco use.

Susan Ackerman teaches the health class at Palisades High School, which allows students access to a sympathetic ear about complex problems.
Susan Ackerman teaches the health class at Palisades High School, which allows students access to a sympathetic ear about complex problems.














“In closing, are the potential competing factors in PCHS’s academic program worth their lives?” Ackerman asked. The leading causes of deaths for adolescents are all behavior-related: accidents, suicide and homicide. In addition, she said half of HIV infections occur in people under 25, while the United States has the highest teen birth rate among industrial nations. “Thank goodness these are all addressed in my health class.”

Assistant Principal Jeff Hartman discussed Pali’s graduation requirements during his presentation and cited potential changes the school could consider. For example, currently Pali requires six semester English courses and two semester electives to graduate, while the University of California and California State University A-G entrance requirements necessitate four years of college preparatory English without naming specific classes.

If Pali’s requirements were adjusted to match the university requirements, then the school could offer a more varied menu of English classes, including more than two electives, while still preparing students for college.

In addition, one semester of health and two semesters of applied technology are required by Pali, but not the UC/CSU systems. Hartman said that for health, about 430-450 students each year pay to take an online version of the course, while about 470 take Ackerman’s course.

Ackerman said later in an interview that about a decade ago the school had a second health teacher, Kelly Loftus, who has since become a dean of students. A new teacher was not hired to teach health at that time, so the online course became an option. Ackerman also noted that the California Education Code requires teaching a number of subjects taught in her class, such as sex education.

Currently, students may pay $144 for the one-semester class through Brigham Young University’s online high school and can then free up their schedules to take an extra year-long academic class. Students who take Ackerman’s health class have about 10 options of single semester courses to pair it with, but most electives are year-long, according to Hartman.

Principal Pam Magee said during a meeting break that the administration is concerned that this is creating a two-tier system where students who pay for the online course get an academic advantage over their classmates who take Ackerman’s popular class.

Board member Ellen Pfahler mentioned that one of her children took the online class, while another took Ackerman’s class, which Pfahler found to be much more beneficial. “I don’t know if kids would choose [health as an elective], but I think they need it,” Pfahler said.

Student Calia Hunter, 10th grade, said the course had taught her “a lot of valuable things about how to take care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.” She learned to look at her classes “through a different filter,” which has improved her focus and enhanced her interest in her classes. She said she also is able to view her emotions in a new way and see others’ perspectives more easily, which has enhanced her friendships and family relationships.

Another student fought through tears to express how essential the course was for her. Before joining the course, she suffered from an eating disorder and depression. “I took out all my anger and sadness on my arms,” she said, adding that Ackerman had helped her find a therapist. “I’m so much better. I would be nowhere without this class.”

Principal Magee said that changes, if any, in graduation requirements would most likely take place before the 2017-18 school year.

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