A Fresh Look at Freshman Health

A mix of perspectives on the new freshman health class.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Joyce Liao

The first few days of the spring semester caused confusion for a group of freshmen who found an unexpected class on their schedule: health.

Freshman Alexander Lake, a student in health teacher Barbara Garber’s fifth period class, explained his reaction to receiving the course. “Initially, I was a little frustrated, because I was looking forward to having two free periods and being able to move my schedule around to be able to have more free time at the end of the day to fit in my other extracurriculars and other commitments. But in the long term, I realized it was important and better for me to have a free period junior year.”

Freshman Missal Tabassum agreed that although she was originally surprised to learn that she would be taking the class, as the semester continued, she started appreciating the topics and applying them to her own life.

While some freshmen were disappointed to be losing a free, juniors wish that they had had the option to take it earlier as it would have made their Stuyvesant experience easier in multiple ways. Junior Lily Yan, health teacher Zhi Yuan Fang’s student, explained in an e-mail interview, “I think if I'd had the opportunity to partake in a health class, I would've learned sooner about how to improve my own mental health and about how important it is to ask for help instead of bottling everything up.”

Junior Allie Lennard agreed, describing in an e-mail interview, “Although junior year is notorious for being work-heavy and very stressful, I had a much more difficult time dealing with stress as a freshman, so I think health class would've been a nice addition to my schedule and would've been favorable to my well-being.”

A unit on substance abuse is planned for later on in the semester. Similar to Yan’s feeling that learning how to deal with stressful situations at Stuyvesant would have been beneficial for her early in her Stuyvesant career, many students feel that having exposure to information about drugs and alcohol use might lower the number of people who use these substances, especially because many students start using them before their junior year.

Junior Ting Ting Chen reasoned in an e-mail interview, “Junior year is too late for people to learn about drugs, mental health, and other things they encounter upon entering Stuy as freshmen.”

And based on the data, Chen is right. According to The Spectator’s survey of the class of 2017, 18.9 percent of seniors said that they had used marijuana since starting at Stuyvesant, and 42.9 percent said that they had used alcohol. (The most recent survey did not ask about usage.)

Not only is junior year too late to learn about substance abuse, but by the time it rolls around, many students have experienced substance abuse first hand and lack education about the various substances they are using. “Putting off educating us about taboo topics, like sex and drinking, doesn't delay people's experiences with them. It's inevitable that teenagers are going to take risks, so it's important that we are educated beforehand to ensure that we do these things in the safest way possible,” Lennard explained in an e-mail interview.

Freshmen don’t only gain helpful knowledge near the beginning of their Stuyvesant experience. Many also genuinely enjoy health and consider the material interesting and useful. Tabassum noted, “I like that most of it is student-driven, in that students would often go outside of class, they take whatever information they earn and then present it to their peers in a way that is more clear and comprehensive for them.”

Juniors agree with this assessment of health, despite them taking it in different years. Lennard mentioned in an e-mail interview, “I really, really enjoyed health class! It wasn't really specific things I learned that were memorable. It was more the discussions we had. Health class provided a nice escape from the rigid, lecture-style classes that are so common at Stuy. In health, we were able to talk freely about issues or situations that affect every one of us.”

Additionally, Yan explained that most of the assignments are intriguing and do not feel like busywork. “The assignments we do get are always interesting. Past assignments include analyzing health advertisements directed toward teenagers, asking friends and family of their opinions about us, and creating our own plans to change an unhealthy behavior,” she said in an e-mail interview. Lennard reiterated, “Health was refreshing as it was more relaxed and sometimes more engaging than common core classes. We did have some major assignments, but they were enjoyable and not at all an inconvenience.”

However, one disadvantage of adding the class to a freshmen’s schedule is the possibility that it might add to the stress of changing high schools and adjusting to a new environment. This problem did not arise for Yan because the class’s workload is relatively light. Chen, expressing a different opinion, explained in an e-mail interview, “I wish I had been able to take health freshman year, when I had fewer classes.”

To freshmen and juniors alike, health is an interesting and helpful class that teaches topics pertinent to students at Stuyvesant. The decision to offer health to freshmen is popular, and, in fact, many upperclassmen regret that this option was not made available earlier. The best change that the administration could make now would be increasing the number of sections for future freshman classes.