My high school asked its alumni students to complete a survey. My passion has been unlearning incorrect teachings since I graduated two years ago, so when this email from the school director landed in my box asking for a candid response, I took my chance to make a difference and gave my all.
(For privacy purposes, I will write “____” in place of my school’s name.)
Here is my letter to the school:
1.In the realm of mental health, emotional health, and/or sexual health, what do you wish you would have learned at ____?
Firstly, thank you for your question. I graduated from ____ two years ago, and I am still learning essential things in my day-to-day that I wish I would have when I was a teenager.
Secondly, before I answer your question, I want to clarify that I will not write short answers, and I will also include articles to support my requests. Please set aside at least ten minutes of your time to read what I have to say in full.
In mental health, I would have liked to learn the five common mental health disorders (anxiety, mood, psychotic, dementia, and eating disorders) with clear definitions of common illnesses within them. What is and what makes depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, PTSD, suicide, self-harm, trauma, etc.? How do they affect the person’s body, self-image, work performance, etc.? A precise checklist of signs and symptoms would have been beneficial, because as high schoolers, we tended to ignore our problems, belittle them, and sweep them under the rug. Learning what to do when I notice these signs and symptoms in myself or others would have been life-changing.
____ mostly told me to “get help” and to tell a teacher. Those instructions lack considerable detail, and teachers don’t always feel safe to students. I needed an action plan. I was not a good student, and whenever I tried to reach out about how much I was struggling, teachers made me feel that I was making up my problems to “get out of assignments” or to “get special treatment.” The stigma around mental health is very palpable, but I think long and SAFE (not where we put people on the spot to give the “right” answers) classroom discussions of this could be beneficial. I knew at least one, but usually about ten students in each class, who had one, but usually a lot more of the common illnesses that I listed at the beginning of my response.
What were they doing?
Crying in the bathroom.
What were their peers doing?
We need resources on how to help! We were acting as each other’s psychologists, and no 15-year-old should be in that position for an acquainted 18-year-old.
Here is an entire 165-page lesson plan. I understand that teaching us everything isn’t possible, but roughly covering these topics is essential to our generation and the coming ones especially. http://teenmentalhealth.org/schoolmhl/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Mental-Health-High-School-Curriculum-Guide.pdf Social media has a substantial impact on us, and it is becoming even more prevalent. More on this later.
In emotional health, I would have been a completely different person in the most positive sense if I had the chance to learn about self-regulating techniques. Children aren’t usually taught how to do that, but model their parents. Here, the students’ attachment styles play a big role (which is also an important thing to be covered, possibly alongside the curriculum about Myers Briggs and spiritual gifts.)
How to breathe well, how to calm down during a stressful situation, how to know when to step away from an argument or when to continue, etc. Medically it is proven that self-love and self-acceptance aid people in obtaining an overall better life experience. What are some practices we could do daily to help our self-esteem?
If most of us hadn’t hated ourselves during our high school years and if we hadn’t thought of ourselves as broken, lacking, less than, and unworthy of anything good, I believe the environment emotionally, mentally, and spiritually could have been so much healthier. Instead, we had an overwhelming amount of toxicity in the air. I personally felt like I was drowning during most school days due to this atmosphere, and I know many others with similar experiences.
Another useful tool would have been learning about EQ: What is emotional intelligence? How to become more self-aware? How to stay clear from absorbing others’ emotions, how not to lose ourselves in others—especially when there is a difference of opinion—how to set boundaries, how to communicate our needs clearly to others, and how to handle conflict.
(This shouldn’t have been an and/or question.) In sexual health, I would like to begin by saying that it was an embarrassment. Being in the class wasn’t, but receiving Sex Ed when we were seniors in high school certainly was. Please, I am begging you to change this.
We should continue learning age-appropriate sex education throughout high school, at the very least. The ideal would be starting from third or fourth grade (basic anatomy, how to take care of yours, and introduction to consent and autonomy) all the way to twelfth.
Pam Stenzel should never be played to students again. She speaks incorrect statistics, uses outdated language, and uses shame-based “teaching.”
We need to learn about consent, which ____ did not mention once during our schooling years. As you know, you have had students who became rape victims while attending ____. There are ones who suffered this trauma later in their life. I strongly believe many of the victims are unaware that they are, in fact, rape victims. The lack of education on the topic highly contributes to the occurrences of these horrendous events.
These girls or boys don’t know why they are crying at night, having flashbacks, and blaming themselves. Teach what consent is. I will unashamedly attach my very own article on this topic with resources and vital information that ____ should have taught me. I needed to find this information on my own. I did this without knowing there was information to find, and I don’t want any other rape victim, such as myself, to have to do the same. https://dalmasofiyah.com/2020/10/20/consent-and-christianity/
Teach us that condoms work. Teach us about the wide variety of contraceptive methods. I have PCOS (which is another health-related topic that we could have learned about). I need the pill to have hair stay on my head, regulate painful and sporadic periods, restore my hormonal imbalances and overall well-being. If the issue is family planning, at least cover the benefits (that I listed here, for example) outside of a sexual relationship.
We deserve comprehensive sex education: medically accurate and evidence-based. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2016/11/comprehensive-sexuality-education We should be taught anatomy, what is healthy, and how to identify infections and problems.
There is more to sexual health than intercourse.
How do you to tell if you have a UTI? What do different discharges signify? I knew nothing about my sexual organs when I graduated high school. How does a period occur? What are the different feminine products women have to choose from? What are the pros and cons of each? What does menopause look like? How do men deal with ED?
A wide variety of topics about reproductive organs that aren’t explicitly about sex, but need to be learned about in the context of sex education in order to avoid stigma or furthering problems. Finally, I find it outrageous that we needed a permission slip to watch Passion of the Christ, but that wasn’t a requirement for the Pam Stenzel video series that harmed in more ways than I can tell.
2.Are there any other health-related topics you would suggest as valuable for our students?
We should learn how to take care of our bodies. Vitamins, what the food industry is like, different diets (vegetarian, vegan, etc.), when to go to a doctor, and healthy fitness techniques. We need to learn about how to navigate the internet.
We need to learn about porn literacy. Please cover pornography. In a study conducted in 2020, psychologists found that most children learn about sex through porn first. Cover how the false scenarios and representations shown in porn aren’t accurate in real life and that this can cause damage in a person’s perception of men and women. Cover how websites like PornHub run on human trafficking and illegal exploitation of underage children. Do this without shaming the students for being curious. That is a natural part of development. As educators, you should be aware of the development stages high schoolers go through. You could cover some of those topics as well.
Have a conversation with us about how to be on social media in a healthy way. Encouraging what healthy boundaries are in our socials and what unhealthy patterns are in social media consumption would significantly help build good and healthy habits for later life.
We should also learn about common disabilities: what they are like, how to interact with people who have them them, and how we can help make their lives easier.
Socially, learning about the makeup of healthy vs. toxic relationships (within family, friends, and romantic partners), how to maintain a healthy relationship, and what to do when you are in a bad one would also be important.
Religiously, learning the BITE model when discussing cults (like the case-study of Jonestown) and discussing examples of them and even applying it to ____ could be eye-opening. Hungarians tend to call the school a cult. Are they wrong?
And back to mental health, how do we get help? What are the helplines in Hungary, how do we make a therapist appointment, how much does it cost, and what happens during a session?
3.How well were you able to explain the Christian worldview when you left ____? Rate 1-5 stars!
4.How do you think ____ could have better equipped you for life/college?
If ____ had stopped trying to make me see the world narrow-mindedly, I would have been better equipped for life and college. Even the question above uses ‘the’ to describe a Christian worldview that ____ holds. Because it was forced down my throat, I put five stars. I could likely explain the ____ worldview in my sleep. However, to claim that this is THE Christian worldview, in my opinion, is offensive. The question itself made me uncomfortable. Learning about different denominations, seeing the validity in the difference of opinion, and showing genuine love to those in contrast to us is a beautiful virtue that the school didn’t model.
If I wanted to be snarky, I would say the xenophobia aimed at non-Americans helped us. Of course, this isn’t the case. We are used to being marginalized, disbelieved, and feeling like we are inherently bad for some reason. The fear of constant scrutiny, knowing that others have been expelled for worse things than whatever it is you’re doing, is unimaginable unless you have lived it. But ultimately, this further increased our compassion for minority groups.
Performance pressure is wrong. ____ ought to stop being a goldmine for mental illnesses that run rampant. Please help us. Stop scaring us. In my university, we can ask for counseling sessions that are safe and confidential. I never felt the same way when I considered going to counseling sessions at ____, regardless of the confidentiality claims. I never did go.
In my university, every semester, we are asked to assess our teachers. Every day we are shown that we, as individuals, are respected and valued people. It is not a Christian school. I feel more loved there. I wasn’t prepared for the university’s investment in my opinions, and in the beginning, the newness of the feeling of being seen made me uncomfortable.
I want future ____ graduates to have the self-respect for themselves that I didn’t when I graduated.
In a conversation with one lovely American mom, she told me that teachers are always assessing students as people in Christian school environments. It’s their job. My issue with this is that students cannot do the same by evaluating teachers. We are told that you don’t know what is in our hearts, so you will not judge us based on our actions, but your actions have spoken louder than your words. We are a performance-based school. The minute someone “acts” Christian, they get in less trouble! I would be happy to even conduct a study on this if that would make you see it.
This request is small, but I almost didn’t get into university because I, someone who identifies as a writerand runs a blog, wasn’t allowed into the AP Literature class. I needed two AP classes, as most students do for European universities, and I was lucky enough that my school allowed me in with one (AP Psychology.) I should have been allowed to decide if I was able to take the workload. Yeah, my Junior year was more comfortable because I didn’t have any APs, but it impacted my future education. I am not gifted in physics or history. My giftings are in the arts and humanities. I would have had an amazing application if I could have written AP Spanish on it or something along these lines, and I know ____ tends to struggle with getting enough teachers. This is an issue.
I had a classmate who took an outside AP Biology class during her sophomore year. The school would not accept her work in this class, and the most they were willing to do is write her completion of the course on her report card in tiny print without any accreditation. It wasn’t a drama class. It was AP Biology she took when she was 15. Please support students’ desire for AP classes and make exceptions for those who need them. She is now flourishing as she studies Pre-Med in England because she quickly transferred to a different high school that encouraged her learning and goals.
I wanted to let you know that I strongly considered using my American friend’s name for this anonymous survey. She agrees with everything I wrote here, and she suggested that I sign her name at the bottom of this. She regrets not writing hers down on her own survey, because she knows her name holds more weight than mine does.
The reason why I decided against it is because I would like to be included. Despite knowing that my name itself takes away credibility and respect, I wanted you to know how passionate I am about changing the way things are run.
Every year, you ask the Seniors (and I guess the alumni as well) to complete a similar survey to this, but things don’t seem to change. We, the students, know that the same things have been repeated and voiced so many times, and yet things are still the same. We are tired of putting our hearts and souls into writing out vulnerable responses and then feeling that it was a waste later.
Please include me in future emails about changes that are being made. If I can offer any help, please reach out to me through my email. I am currently in Hungary and would be willing to be a part of the change in any way possible. If this is a genuine desire for change and it isn’t just for show, thank you for your heart.
One of my greatest desires is making ____ a better place for future students. If you share that desire, please honor my request to be more than just another student who completed a survey. Allow me to help transform the school inside out, so that the school values align with the students’ school experience.