The New York State Department of Education (NYSED) requires one semester of comprehensive health education in middle school and high school. But many schools are struggling to meet that requirement. Recently, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer called attention to the paucity of health education in NYC public schools, citing a statistic that found 43% of eighth graders haven’t completed a semester of health education. The report concluded that many New York City schools have no teachers assigned to teach health at all.
But it’s not just NYC schools. Students across the nation are devoid of health curriculum precisely at an age when they should be sufficiently engaged to understand health choices and consequences. According to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach lessons on all 16 of the nationally recommended topics for sexual health education.
These findings prompted my wife Katie and I to take action. In 2016, we began a mission to use technology to provide holistic online health education options for high school students at a charter school in Brooklyn. But we realized pretty quickly that traditional learning management systems would not meet the needs and expectations of 21st century learners or teachers, and that existing digital curriculum resources were not culturally responsive enough for NYC’s diverse student population.
We thought a lot about the importance of culture with respect to health decisions, and how character-based education has taken a backseat to standards-based education. And then an epiphany: the pressures of national academic standards made it difficult for schools to prioritize anything other than Common Core, not just to the detriment of health education, but to the detriment of innovative instructional strategies, and building culture and character.
Pulling from our collective experiences – me as a digital marketing, technology, and learning and development professional, and Katie as a veteran teacher and school principal – we considered best in class performance support, learning management, and project management platforms alongside evidence-based approaches to reflective learning and building culture in schools. Those insights led to the design and development of Lessonbee, the first and only Reflective Learning Management System.
Lessonbee’s character-based education digital curriculum is a timely solution to schools struggling to deliver high quality health education. The lessons apply inquiry-based learning activities and realistic scenarios that move beyond traditional ways of initiating learning opportunities. Students are engaged with the content in the same way they are engaged with social media. The sex education modules, for example, feature a friend group that communicates in person and through popular social media channels like Instagram, where the learner is part of the conversation and helps the characters arrive at healthy solutions.
Throughout the curriculum, as students move through the lessons they are continuously prompted to reflect on their thinking. This helps them not only understand the material but also evaluate how their health decisions impact themselves, their community and society at large, all of which aligns with Lessonbee’s overall mission to create digital learning solutions that inspire connection, openness, diversity, metacognition, and a sense of community for teachers and students.
Lessonbee is currently accepting NYC schools that have been identified by the Office of the Comptroller as lacking adequate health education to pilot the first 12 lessons of the digital health education curriculum starting in fall of 2018. These lessons cover human anatomy, human development, sexual reproduction, pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS and STD prevention, and drugs and alcohol. The Health Education curriculum is the first in a series of character-based education offerings for Lessonbee that will address topics such as Life Skills, Responsible Citizenship, and Diversity and Inclusion.