By William Croyle
UNION - Preteens and teens face issues like obesity, drugs, sex and self-esteem every day.
Administrators at Gray Middle School are trying to do something to help their 1,034 students through it.
The school has formed a partnership with St. Luke Hospitals to educate the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders on topics related to physical and mental health.
It's the first partnership of its kind for the hospital, which will provide a dozen speakers - all volunteering their time - including nurses, dietitians and a midwife.
"Developmentally, the middle-school levels are very important to reach on health issues and, in some ways, neglected," said John Allegrante, professor of health education at Teachers College-Columbia University in New York.
Students will take 12, 50-minute classes for six weeks during their health class periods beginning Feb. 24. Topics will include nutrition, abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders, self-esteem, substance abuse and heart health.
Most sessions will involve hands-on learning, like providing students with models of a clean lung and the lung of a smoker. Emma Shipp, coordinator of community education at St. Luke, said the hospital will try to present information in a way that the students will clearly understand.
"One thing we'd say to the kids is, 'Would you spray Windex in your mouth?' Because you'll find some of the same chemicals in tobacco as in Windex," Shipp said.
Gray Assistant Principal Pam Wiggins came up with the idea for the partnership. She said the classes fall under the state's core content for Practical Living and Vocational Studies.
"There's only so much you can put in a book," Wiggins said. "What works best with kids today is when someone comes right at them with something real."
The school is also trying to drum up interest in exercise by having students log how far they walk at school and home for the rest of the school year.
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