Four of us were tasked with presenting on Puberty and Hygiene at two different middle schools on the island. We were very nervous beforehand, not wanting to violate any cultural norms in what we were told is a conservative culture. However, through discussions with the school nurses and the St. Croix Women’s Coalition director (Ms. Lewis), we found out that there are a number of 6th and 7th graders who are sexually active. One of the school nurses told us that the average age for dropping out is 13 or 14, or 8th grade- because they get pregnant.
It was crucial to first talk to the school nurses about what would be appropriate to discuss in the classroom, as they have the best knowledge about what children know, do not know, and should be taught in the school setting. This included not talking about condom use, as the nurse said they were not old enough to know about this aspect of prevention. Beverly and Jess H. taught a group of sixty 5th graders, while Alex and I taught a group of thirty 5th graders (separated by sex). The kids were very giggly and shy to participate, as was expected.
We presented on physical changes during puberty, how to maintain hygiene (start using deodorant! was the nurses’ plea), reproductive anatomy, and very basic information about HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted. From discussing with the kids, a lot of things surprised us: Some girls thought you could “catch” HIV by touching or kissing someone, some boys asked really great questions about sexual harassment. We cleared up misconceptions about where the baby actually grew- some kids thought it was in the actual stomach, so we introduced the uterus to them. It was hard to address all of these topics that the nurse had asked us to present in 45 minutes, but we did our best and did it in about an hour!