Before she showed a video on childbirth, Villa Duchesne teacher Stacy Henning
gave the seniors a heads up: “You might not be used to seeing someone standing up when the baby is delivered.”
Even with masks on, students had a hard time containing their surprise, as several of them looked at one another with wide eyes.
The video is one of the culminating lessons for seniors as part of the school’s Healthy Bodies, Healthy Relationships curriculum for students in seventh through 12th grades. The curriculum focuses on values, decision making and healthy relationships and frames questions of sexuality for her students within the concept of human dignity, through the lens of Catholic Church teachings.
Henning, the theology department chair and academic dean, has developed the curriculum over the past six years since she joined the faculty at the all-girls, private high school in Frontenac. Lessons are incorporated at age-appropriate
levels; in seventh grade, for example, students cover topics including managing
stress and anxiety, body image, healthy friendships, puberty and menstruation, peer pressure and alcohol.
By 11th grade, lessons are incorporated into the morality course, which is a part of the theology curriculum. Students cover topics including assessing misperceptions of sex and sexuality of teens today while affirming Church teachings on human sexuality; an understanding of sex and sexuality based on the goodness of creation and Jesus’ Incarnation; chastity, body image and healthy relationships.
“We’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle if we only do this in health or science class,” Henning said. “We have an obligation to love one another, and if we’re going to talk about sexuality, we need a foundation of love, care and concern. One of the biggest things in Catholic teaching is our human dignity, and how we are made in the image and likeness of God.”
In a pre-assessment of students, Henning found that many of them had the perception that the Church teaches sex as something that is sinful, and that’s just not true, she said. “A lot of students either thought this, or they don’t talk about it, or think it’s wrong or bad. But it’s a fundamental part of who we are and it is good and valuable, and God created them in these beautiful ways.”
Henning also collaborated with other faculty and staff, including the school’s counselor to develop lessons on values and making healthy choices, body image and self-esteem. Teachers also have shared some personal experiences with students, such as childbirth, post-partum depression, pregnancy loss and infertility. During the seniors’ class on childbirth, one teacher shared information on the Creighton Model FertilityCare system and NaPro Technology (one of several Church-approved methods of Natural Family Planning) to address issues with infertility.
In human sexuality, students dive into creation, starting with the relationship between Adam and Eve “We talk about how God is part of sexual relationships, through the person of the Holy Spirit,” They also learn about the sacramentality of marriage, which is a sign of God’s love. “The true purpose of marriage is to show God’s love in the world,” said Henning. Other resources used include Scripture, elements from St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, “Gaudium et Spes,” and teachings from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Senior Delaney Sullivan said she especially appreciated the lesson on childbirth. “It definitely gave me a new appreciation for life itself,” she said. “I know that I want to have kids someday, but I didn’t realize all of the details. It gave me a big appreciation for moms. I know when you’re a mom you making a sacrifice — but it’s a big thing.”