No Health Class This Year?


Tammy Palagi ’21

As of now, there is no health class at Ramaz and in its place is a ‘mental health’ free period. Ms. Axel, the previous health teacher, began teaching health at Ramaz in 2014 and developed a curriculum well suited to the needs of a Ramaz Upper School student. In freshman year, students learned about sleep, nutrition, and the five areas of health. Sophomores discussed stress management and how to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. Juniors had a sexual education class. Health classes were organized by foreign language class and took place once a rotation. Although the class met infrequently, many students feel that health, unlike many other high-school classes, is important in the long term, providing you with the information necessary to better understand your body and how it functions. 

Late in the summer, Ms. Axel left Ramaz unexpectedly for another job, leaving Ramaz with insufficient time to hire a replacement. The administration is in no rush to find a new health teacher and believe that a free period in students’ schedules will serve as a stress reliever. “For the time being,” said Rabbi Stochel, “we decided to offer students a mental health period rather than rushing to hire someone to teach a curriculum that Ms. Axel has developed over years.”  

Ms. Krupka, Dean of Faculty said, “We view this as an opportunity to take the time needed to hire a good fit to fill the position in addition to taking a second look at the curriculum for each grade. We plan on supplementing the class by bringing in speakers to discuss topics normally covered in health.” She went on to say, “this is definitely not a permanent change and will last maximum for the duration of this year, possibly only this semester.”

  “Ramaz kids, like all teenagers, grapple with developing both physically and emotionally, and it is important we support that in an educational way,” said Dr. Zeitchik, Director of Guidance. A health class can be a controlled way to talk about important topics that may otherwise be slightly uncomfortable to discuss. While a free period may very well be beneficial to a student’s mental health, it will not educate them, nor give them a safe place to speak with a trusted adult about very serious issues. Rina Marlowe ’20 said, “the things people would say showed such a lack of knowledge; the class was very much necessary.” Many students feel that they are at a disadvantage not taking health. Yehudit Rogosnitzky ’21 said, “I feel as if I’m missing out on one of the only classes that will actually help me in my life.” Shira Schwartz ’22 also admired the class and said, “It was interesting to learn how we can better take care of our bodies.”

On the other hand, an average Ramaz student’s day is filled with classes, assignments, tests, and after-school activities. Students appreciate every extra free period that is added to their schedule. Beatrice Kleeger ’20 said, “We never learned about the topics that were actually applicable to our lives, and I would much rather a free.” In reality, 40 extra minutes every week could give students an opportunity to do some work and thereby go to sleep earlier that night.

According to New York State law, all high school students must earn the equivalent of one credit in Health Education in order to graduate. On July 1st, a new law took effect in New York which adds a paragraph to the state’s Education Law mandating mental health as a part of health education in schools. New York is the first state in the U.S. to require that mental health be taught as part of health education. Although Ramaz as a private school does not need to abide by laws made for New York City Public Schools, these new laws represent shifts in American society creating an emphasis on youth and young adults learning about health and mental health that was absent in previous generations. It seems as if Ramaz is taking a countercultural step backwards by not implementing a health curriculum. Dr. Zeitchik said, “As a psychologist, I appreciate that a free period can be a stress reliever for kids, but I also think that a meaningful health curriculum with a trusted health teacher is more important. A health class doesn’t guarantee that the kids are going to internalize all the information, but it creates an opportunity for them to comprehend and be alert about issues in a mature and serious way.”