The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — A revised health curriculum was introduced and approved by the Chariho School Committee at the May 21 meeting.

Chariho Assistant Principal Andrea Spas said the revisions address new priorities, such as social and emotional health and substance abuse.

“Some of the new areas addressed through the health curriculum revision include an increased focus on mental health concepts including self-regulation strategies, suicide prevention and metacognition [understanding how our brains work],” she said. “Students are learning about how their brains are malleable and how they can modify behavior and create new neural pathways for prosocial choices. There is also a focus on bystander instruction, where students are learning how to take a stand and if they see something that is of concern, to say something. Conflict resolution, setting boundaries, assertive communication, consent, domestic violence and advocacy for others are some additional important topics addressed through the new curriculum.”

An eight-member task force began working on the revisions last September. 

Task force member and district STEM specialist Susie Scanapieco explained that the group works on curriculum updates for all subjects taught in the district. Each curriculum is updated every five years.

“My role on the task force is to assist the writing team, the building administration, the department head and Mrs. Daly to review and revise the curriculum for each course offering,” she said. “I help coordinate all the writers, being sure they are being consistent in format so that it is clear to any audience reading the document, which can often be a few hundred pages. I also cross reference the curriculum to the standards to be sure we have covered all the required objectives.”

One of the major changes, Scanapieco said, is a more age-specific standard for teaching health-related material.

“The major difference is content delivery. Many of the standards, concepts and lessons are repeated year after year in a health curriculum, but at every stage the teacher will need to determine how they will deliver sometimes sensitive content in an age-appropriate manner,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jane Daly said district administrators began reviewing Chariho’s mental health delivery system two years ago. The result was a commitment to offer instruction at every level in social and emotional learning, using a framework known as Zones of Regulation which teaches self control and problem-solving from first grade all the way through high school.

“As they move up through the grade levels, the language changes to be more grade-appropriate and also the depth of what they learn increases,” Daly said.

School Committee member Lisa Macaruso, of Hopkinton, endorsed the new curriculum but she added that it would be important to to ensure that teachers would have the necessary resources to teach it.

“I’m pleased that the health curriculum reflects the current issues that our students face or are likely to struggle with as they emerge into adulthood,” she said. “Deepening students’ understanding of topics such as consent, suicidality, and by-stander intervention provides them with a protective mindset, expanded vocabulary and actionable skills. I have requested that the administration take additional steps provide teachers with access to updated materials and ongoing mentoring to ensure that these critical conversations are meaningfully realized at the lesson plan level consistently.”

The curriculum also addresses basics such as healthy eating. The traditional food pyramid eating guide has been replaced with My Plate.

“It’s what you put on your plate — healthier choices,” Daly said.

The curriculum also contains new, more specific language referring to vaping.

“With this iteration, Juul and vaping are newer terms that have come up in the past few years since the last review of the curriculum,” Daly said, adding that this and other updates kept the district’s curricula relevant.

“We’re very fortunate here that the community and the School Committee support this type of work and fund it,” she said. “This way, we’re always keeping up to date with the curriculum, we’re always focusing on what’s important in terms of teaching and learning in the classroom.”


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