High school stu­dents learn to nav­i­gate re­la­tion­ships

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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.

By Jan En­goren

Teacher Geri Grocki, in red, and a group of stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in the "One Bil­lion Ris­ing" event at Boyn­ton Beach High School (sub­mit­ted photo).

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