By James Steindler
When high schoolers feel they’re only scratching the surface of a subject, it’s not every day that they’ll fill the void themselves and take their education into their own hands. Three recent graduates from the valley decided to advocate for their peers and create a more comprehensive sex education and healthy relationships curriculum.
This semester, Roaring Fork School District high school students will have the option to take an online course known as Causewell for a health credit. Causewell was created “for teens by teens,” according to the organization’s recent press release.
“Although the current sexual health education curriculum typically used in public Colorado high schools meets the requirements of the Colorado Department of Education’s comprehensive health standards,” the release reads, “it does not adequately address critical components of sexual health including development of a healthy self-identity and an understanding of others, mindfulness, trauma and self-care. Additionally, in Colorado the teaching of sexual education is left up to each individual district and not required for everyone.”
Zoe Vozick was a lead intern in forming the Causewell project. Vozick graduated from Basalt High School in 2020 and is currently studying integrative studies with an emphasis in social justice and human rights at George Mason University. Vozick’s efforts were not made alone. Her peers, Pilar Meléndez and Sydney Clark, also had a hand in the creation of Causewell.
“The foundation of a healthy life is a healthy relationship with self. From our relationship with self, we then develop strong, fulfilling relationships with others, which add meaning and depth to our human experience,” said Meléndez. “The earlier we start to develop healthy relational concepts and patterns, the better all the types of intimate relationships we may seek will develop.”
Vozick and the two other recent valley graduates connected with Garfield County Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) program manager Arn Menconi. According to its website, Garfield County PREP’s mission is to “increase young people’s access to comprehensive sexual health education and foster connection to trusted adults.”
According to Menconi, “It was extraordinary to work with the college students to bring about a never-before-seen solution for our youth so quickly, easily and free to all.”
Causewell offers two courses, but the main one is Positive Healthy Relationships which was in part created by Vozick, Meléndez and Clark. The course has five modules: 1. Bodies and Brains; 2. My Own Best Friend; 3. Our Past, Our Present; 4. We are all Connected; 5. Intimacy and Love. The other course, Comprehensive Sexual Education, is an online class borrowed from the Colorado Health Network.
With the help of Lindsay Hentschel, a Glenwood Springs High School counselor, a number of students enrolled in Causewell for the current semester. Because the courses are online, students are expected to complete the subject matter on their own for a passing grade, with some oversight from a health instructor at the school.
“Causewell expands on the often discrete standards for comprehensive health creating an integrated experience for understanding our behavioral choices in the context of our relationship goals. Social-emotional competencies that are often hard to integrate in secondary curricula are woven into the modules. The curriculum is accessible, student-developed and student-centered and takes the burden of curriculum development and navigating the newest resources and terminology off of teachers who often have multiple preps,” said Hentschel.
Eventually, “Our goal is to have the learning management system, which is basically a ‘Khan-Academy’ for sexual education, be a part of health classes in the schools,” said Vozick.
The curriculum does not exclusively advocate for abstinence. “It really deals with user choice,” said Vozick. “So, we talk about abstinence but we also talk about birth control methods and all the different types of sexual relationships that can occur.”
“This is very important to me because I did not receive proper sexual health education, so I wanted to provide that opportunity for other students,” Vozick explained. “Also, to teach a younger generation to find their voice within relationships and feel empowered to advocate for themselves and their desires.”
Students can register at causewell.org