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The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

New expertise brought to class on the birds and the bees

Redesigned S&R to incorporate diverse voices, emphasize well-being
New expertise brought to class on the birds and the bees
Drawing by Sherry Ren

From discussions of consent to healthy relationships, the mandatory sophomore Sexuality and Relationships (S&R) course is a cornerstone of the school’s programming. But, this year, it will undergo its most rigorous redesign yet; certified health professionals will teach the course instead of academic teachers, and the content will include more perspectives.

Health and Wellness Program Coordinator Dawn McGrath said that the course’s objective is to provide students with a safe space to learn about both themselves and their bodies. The new health class will be included in freshman and sophomore programming this year.

Ms. McGrath was hired as the Health and Wellness curriculum coordinator in August 2022. Ms. McGrath spent much of her first year learning about what programming already existed. She considered student feedback gathered after S&R classes, a survey published by The Vanguard that called for the curriculum to be updated to suit modern students’ needs, and input from teachers who had previously taught the course. Ms. McGrath then proposed a redesign to be more inclusive for all students.

As part of this proposal, BB&N hired two new health educators who will join Ms. McGrath this year. The health educators aim to broaden the scope of the class to include various other health topics and to foster a more inclusive and safer environment for students of underrepresented groups, Ms. McGrath said.

In addition to the pre-existing discussions about sexuality and relationships, the new course design will incorporate conversations about mental health.

“The school was really looking to create

more of a wider culture around health and wellness, beyond just the classroom,” Ms. McGrath said. “We don’t want health to live in just the walls of a classroom, but rather create a culture. There will be more activities that address mental health more explicitly, including awareness and stigma reduction, stress management, supporting yourself and others, and honoring each unique individual without holding one person’s experience as more valuable than another.”

The new curriculum will continue exploring power and societal norms in order to amplify the voices of women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and others.

“We are working to bring an identity- conscious lens to the health curriculum and activities within,” she said. “This means we are interrogating our biases as educators and centering identity in our lessons and discussions. In addition to representation in the context of health lessons and examining systems of oppression, power, and privilege, we aim to cultivate classroom communities where students can lean in as their whole selves and feel safe to ask questions and challenge assumptions. We also plan to regularly assess our approach through student feedback so we can make changes in response to student needs.”

Upper School (US) Counselor Douglas Neuman said creating a welcoming environment for all and addressing evolving gender norms have always been focuses of the S&R team, and the new program will build on those existing themes.

“We think it’s important to provide students with accurate, up-to-date information so they can make informed decisions for now or in the future,” Mr. Neuman said. “Every few years we have updated content to reflect best practices, new understandings, language–particularly around gender–and updated resources in our community.”



Drawing by Sherry Ren

Another important change to the S&R class concerns the faculty who teach it; instead of having academic teachers lead the classes, the same health professionals who worked with Ms. McGrath to design the new class will teach it.

“Despite the set curriculum, our S&R teachers don’t necessarily have the background and training a health educator would,” he said.

Former US S&R instructor Matt Turnbull agreed.

“We tried to do the best we could, but having more people who have real expertise will be better for the students,” he said. “The change is really from having teachers like me to teachers who have strong backgrounds in health education teaching the program.”

Andreu Beltran ’25, who took the S&R class last year, said the revamped course will better cater to students needs.

“I wouldn’t say S&R was very helpful for me,” he said. “Some of the information we learned was very useful, but the structure of the class made it difficult to retain any of that info. I think having new teachers that have more familiarity with this subject could be helpful. Everyone will be able to learn more, and staying engaged in the class will be easier.

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