Are We Doing Enough to Get the Kids Ready for College?

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I remember my first class as a health teacher in California. I was given 36 high school students, mostly juniors, in a portable during summer school. Over the course of three and a half weeks, I was supposed to somehow deliver all of the pertinent information that they needed to stay healthy as they transitioned into adulthood.

I was also given a stack of textbooks, worksheets, and videos from the football coach who taught the course during the school year. The same coach who taught me health 10 years before. Well, “taught” might be a strong word. He gave us worksheets to do while he watched game tapes to get ready for Friday night.

When I took over, he told me to just follow the order of the teacher’s guide and cover what I could. There wasn’t nearly enough time to get through all of it, and the kids really just needed the credits for graduation

See, the reason why most of these kids were taking health during summer school is because they didn’t have room in their schedule during the school year to take the quarter-long course. They were too busy with AP classes, sports, extra curriculars, and all of the other courses that really mattered to college admissions officers.

Which is interesting, because when you look at some of the biggest issues plaguing college campuses right now, you’d think a comprehensive health education would be at the top of a college admissions officer’s list.

College students are depressed and burnt out.

In a recent study on the emotional well-being of college freshmen, record numbers of students are getting to university stressed out, anxious, and feeling overwhelmed. This emotional health issue is what some experts are calling a public health crisis, and it’s time we took a more serious look at it.

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We’ve given them the skills to succeed in their classes, but what about in their personal lives? Without healthy coping skills in place, many of them turn to destructive behaviors, which only compound their anxiety and depression.

One in four of them will suffer academic problems due to alcohol.

One in four. We hear on the news time and again about binge drinking on college campuses. It’s become an accepted rite of passage that most adults turn a blind eye to or even encourage. Parents go to family night on campus to play beer pong with their underage kids, trying to relive some sort of glory days of their own.

Meanwhile, research keeps coming out about the effects of binge drinking on the adolescent brain, which we now know isn’t done developing until age 25. An increasing number of girls and young women are becoming alcoholics, and in 89 percent of sexual assault cases, alcohol was involved.

Sexual assault and misconduct are huge issues on college campuses.

According to The National Institute of Justice, one in five women will be sexually assaulted during her college career, and while the data on this is under debate, no one can argue that it is a pervasive issue, and one that demands our attention as health teachers.

From what we’re seeing in the news, universities aren’t always handling accusations correctly, and fraternities keep getting themselves into hot water. Just this week, a fraternity at Yale was put on restriction after an investigation of sexual misconduct, and unfortunately, stories like these are becoming all too common.

We need to make sure that our students understand consent and that they are taught how to look out themselves and each other. Bystander culture should not be tolerated, and students should be taught how to intervene.

This new PSA campaign from the White House, 1 is 2 Many, encourages young men to “speak up and step in” when they see someone at risk for being sexually assaulted. It’s a powerful message, and one that needs to be addressed with the kids before they find themselves in these positions.

Of course, with limited time, adding these issues to our high school health curriculum means that some of the old material might need to get pushed aside or skipped over completely.

Or maybe the powers that be will start to get their priorities straight, and realize that no matter what a child wants to study when they get to college, we should want them to be healthy—physically, mentally, socially and emotionally—when they get there… and for a long time after that too.
Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.51.34 AMAbout the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.