Community / Opinion

Forum needs to go more in-depth

I believe that our Forum classes could become more useful, and I know others would agree. Countless times I have heard my peers walk into the class and ask, “Are we getting out early today?” It is clear that the curriculum could use some adjustments to become more interesting and helpful to students. Forum is an important class to have, but it could be utilized in a more effective manner.

Substance education

The education around drugs and alcohol could be improved. My Forum had someone come in to talk about these substances, but we could have gone further in-depth. She spoke about the effects and classes of the substances, but there was less emphasis on the dangers and side effects other than their addictive quality. There were also photos of the drugs displayed in a visually pleasing manner, which did not help drive the point that these substances are dangerous. We also skipped over some parts of the unit and got out early from one of the classes. We only had two classes for this unit and had time that was not used to further discuss the topic. 

Mental health

I like that Forum talks about mental health, but there could be a few improvements to this unit. This topic is saved for the spring, but I strongly believe it should be in the fall. It is not as effective when you wait until almost the end of the school year to discuss mental health. Discussing mental health earlier would help students better prepare for the stressful school year by learning right away how to recognize signs that they may be struggling and what to do about it. The curriculum could also dive further into the topic of mental health. The most frequently discussed issues are usually depression, anxiety and body image. These are important, but there are many other issues that don’t get as much recognition and are more stigmatized. The more awareness we bring to other problems, the more likely people will reach out for help. Recognizing maladaptive coping behaviors should also be included in the unit. Problems like overspending, shoplifting, not getting enough sleep, binge drinking and self-harm are often overlooked or not noticed by others. It is important to take a look at the symptoms of disorders rather than just focusing on a diagnosis. A wide range of coping skills should also be taught to help with distress tolerance and emotion regulation. Not every skill will work for everyone, so learning a diversity of skills will help people find what works best for them.

Life skills

Another way Forum could be more helpful is by teaching us more life skills. This year, Forum 12 spent a class learning about calculating taxes and budgeting. I found this useful because we need to know that information one day. I wish we could have spent more time on it, though. There should be a unit dedicated to similar skills. This unit should include financial planning, saving for the future, learning about insurance, creating a resume and finding a job.

At one point in the year, we do a couple of self-defense classes during Forum. This is an excellent idea, but you can only learn so much in a couple of classes. We learn these moves but are not repeatedly practicing them. It is easy to forget what you have learned, especially if there is no handout showing the different techniques. It would also be beneficial to have self-defense as a fitness course option. This way, students would have more time to learn about self-defense if they were interested.

Other recommendations

A lot of what we learn in Forum over the years is repetitive. While some repetition is essential to help the knowledge stick, too much takes away from discussing other topics. Each year, I have heard about healthy relationships, peer pressure, navigating friendships and social media. These are important topics, but most students can handle those situations by now from going over them each year.

Some of these annual topics could be talked about in a different way that still addresses the issues, but in a broader sense. For example, healthy relationships, peer pressure and navigating friendships all fit under the category of interpersonal effectiveness. The different aspects of interpersonal effectiveness include objective effectiveness – making a request/getting what you want; relationship effectiveness – maintaining or ending relationships; and self-respect effectiveness – sticking to your values while advocating for yourself. These skills are useful to students because they can be used in multiple settings, including the next steps many of us will take, like college or the workplace.

Forum could also take a different approach to the material. Classes should incorporate more relevant issues in the world or media that students deal with regularly, like pop culture. Many teens are influenced by the sources of media they are consuming. An idea that might be appealing to students is to watch segments from popular shows and talk about the issues going on in them. For instance, during the drugs and alcohol unit, we could watch clips from a show with drug use and discuss the situations, including what made the person vulnerable to using drugs, if the drugs are being glamorized, and the support systems the person has. This idea could be implemented into other units as well. We could also examine unhealthy relationships in shows because many shows have normalized unhealthy relationships.

At the beginning of the school year, there should be a google form asking students what they want to learn about in that year’s Forum. There should also be a google form for each unit where you can anonymously send in situations that you want help with or ask questions. Finally, the Forum classes should be more conversational or interactive, rather than watching long videos or presentations. It is easier to be more engaged when you are actively participating. 

I offer these suggestions as a senior who has benefitted from Forum for four years and wants to see her peers get even more out of the class.

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