High school students learn to navigate relationships
Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, students in Geri Grocki’s teen leadership class at Boynton Beach High School are taking a course titled, “Commit to Change: AViolence Prevention Initiative.”
Part of National Crime Victim’s RightsWeek, the curriculum, developed by Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA), is one of the school’s most popular courses and provides communication skills and techniques to help students establish personal dating rights and responsibilities so they will be less likely to be victimized in a relationship.
“Many kids are in unhealthy relationships,” said Grocki, who has been teaching the class for the past10 years with Jennifer Rey, the AVDAprogram services director. “Theymay not have the best role models at home and don’t have the tools to navigate these relationships.”
She said many teens learn about relationships fromideals depicted in the media and may emulate unhealthy behaviors.
“We sawa need to teach kids about their right to be safe, their right to be respected, their right to privacy, the right to say no, to share their thoughts and feelings and go out with friends without judgment,” Grocki said.
Statistics provided by Safevoices.org, a nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic violence, indicate that one in three teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, strangled or physically hurt by their partner.
Nearly one in five teenage girls say a boyfriend has threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
Many teenage girls report being physically hurt or hit or enduring verbal abuse.
The class is aimed at providing teens with tools to break that cycle of violence.
“We examine gender roles and expectations,” Rey said. “We use guided activities and videos such as ‘Mickey Mouse Monopoly,’ which exposes gender inequalities and hyperfeminine and hypermasculine stereotypes.”
“Both sexes are socialized into pre-determined roles, and some of these rigid notions of conformity to these ideals that can cause destructive behavior,” she said. “We examine what it takes to make a healthy relationship.”
Two of the students in the program, NaicaOrilaf, and Victoria Hill, both18, are enthused when speaking about the course and its instructors.
Orilaf, whowants to be a couples’ therapist, said, “What I’ve learned makesmewant to knowmore and makesme careful about whom I get into a relationship with.”
In the program for two years, she said her friends come to her with relationship questions.
“I give them advice,” Orilaf said. “I take the things I learn in class and put them into real life. For example, I knowthat abuse can be emotional. I tell my friends if they see or experience something, they should talk to someone who can help.”
Hill, who plans to study pre-veterinary courses at Southeast MissouriUniversity when she graduates later this year, said, “These skills can be applied to work or family situations. It’s not just about dating. It’s howto reach a peaceful compromise with opposing viewpoints.”
The class helps her communicatewith her boyfriend of two years. “It’s helped us consider each other’s feelings and whatwewant from each other,” she said. “Commit to Change is everybody’s favorite class. Ms. Rey helps us talk out our conflicts and helps us find anotherway to resolve our differences.”
“And, Ms. Grocki lights up the roomwith her personality and is always there for us. She really cares for her students and is passionate about giving us the resources and tools we need for our life,” Hill said.
Teacher Geri Grocki, in red, and a group of students participating in the "One Billion Rising" event at Boynton Beach High School (submitted photo).