Publication Date: Wednesday, February 11, 2004|
Our Town: The facts of life
Our Town: The facts of life
(February 11, 2004)
by Rachel Metz
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both -- and there you have the facts of life, the song goes.
Perhaps the lyrics should be amended to "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both in Palo Alto schools -- and there you have the facts of life."
For thousands of kids -- including me --who have passed through the hallowed halls of district schools, this is really how it went.
I haven't spent much time mulling how learning about sex and puberty at El Carmelo Elementary School, Jordan Middle School and Palo Alto High School affected me, for better or worse.
But when I learned about tonight's PTA Council's seminar for parents, "Tough Choices; Talking To Your Child About Difficult Issues," a flood of memories clouded my eyes like the yellow cigarette smoke my seventh-grade health teacher exhaled in the early 1990s to exhibit the dangers of lighting up.
The earliest and most disturbing memory I have of education about the biology of adolescence hit in fifth grade when our teacher, Mr. Berger, split us into gender groups.
The boys disappeared somewhere while the girls watched a horrifying, dated film called "Growing Up On Broadway."
The film takes viewers on an emotionally-charged journey through a major marker of female puberty -- the first period. But "Growing Up On Broadway" left me with memories so horrible I repressed them until about a week and a half ago.
We met Shelley Bruce, the star of "Annie," and her movie dog, Sandy, walking down the sidewalks of New York to a sit-down chat with current and former stage and screen "Annie" orphans.
The orphans, most clad in tight, bright '80s exercise gear, gathered in a backstage area and discussed their first periods. They dispelled the myths about not washing your hair or exercising during one's period. "Annie" showed viewers and orphans how to make a calendar charting their cycles.
There was also re-assurance for the slower developers among us: "Whenever it happens, it's the right time for you, and you alone," Annie said.
This topic struck me and female classmates as terrifying and incredibly embarrassing at the time. Not only were we forced to examine a mysterious, unavoidable rite of passage, but America's favorite pint-sized redhead was shoving it down our throats.
Last Friday I decided to pay Annie another visit. Sometimes past events aren't as bad as you remember them, right? I tracked "Growing Up On Broadway" to the school district's materials warehouse, where the kind woman in charge told me I could come in any afternoon and give the video a whirl.
So on Feb. 6 I sat in a corner of the warehouse's crammed portable, reviewing the aging tape among some odd teacher supplies, such as stuffed animals and old, crumbling leather saddles.
It was just as scary the second time around, as I had anticipated. The grainy footage, the weird blue-and-white reproductive organ diagrams, the Stepford-wife wannabe who explained different sanitary products -- it all came back in full force.
I had to know -- were Palo Alto girls still being forced to choke down this outdated version of adolescence?
I learned it hasn't been checked out in a long time -- which could mean current students are being spared the trauma of visiting with Annie and her orphan buddies.
It seems "Growing Up On Broadway" failed the test of time.
I'm sure discussing the facts of life in school will never be easy and it probably won't be fun for many kids. But it's a relief that Annie, at least, is out of the picture.
The idea of tonight's program -- 7 p.m. at JLS Middle School -- is to help parents discuss sex with their children. But please, parents and educators, don't let the experience in school be the trauma it was for my class.
Staff Writer Rachel Metz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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