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On Valentine's Day In School, Cupcakes — And Lessons On Consent02:33
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A calendar in Jodi Piazza's classroom at the Edison K-8 School. (Max Larkin/WBUR)
A calendar in Jodi Piazza's classroom at the Edison K-8 School. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

Valentine's Day — that odd, annual festival of love — is still celebrated in most public schools. Kids tend to like the holiday, and the candy and cupcakes that come with it.

But it can be fraught for educators who are hoping to teach students about love and consent, at a moment when those lessons seem especially important.

Jessie Lazcano teaches fifth grade at the Edison K-8 School in Brighton. She's also one of the school's health teachers — and she doesn't have much use for the holiday.

It has all the junk food of Halloween, she said, plus another unpleasant wrinkle: "It adds this stigma — kids feeling this pressure to give something to everyone. Or even worse, it's exclusionary — it makes kids who didn't get as many Valentine's feel like there's something wrong with them."

The Boston curriculum Lazcano uses includes consent and healthy relationships. She feels she's trying to prepare her students for the confusing, sometimes heartbreaking world that awaits them in adulthood — and that you can't start too young when it comes to what she called "bodily sovereignty."

"If you are making it clear to them at a young age — 'their body, their choice' — and they get to govern what that looks like and feels like, and they need to honor it in others, that's going to be a really great starting point," Lazcano said.

Downstairs, in a second-grade classroom, Eloise Higgs wore a special, all-pink dress to mark Valentine's Day, which she said she likes: "It means everybody's being nice and thoughtful."

She added that she appreciates love — more, at least, than her 9-year-old brother, who doesn't like kisses and doesn't plan to get married: "Right now, I just think he's over love. But I think by the time he's a grown-up, he's probably gonna get over that."

Eloise's teacher, Jodi Piazza, said that second-graders tend to be affectionate, seeking out hugs from her and others. ("And I'm an affectionate teacher," she adds.) At the same time, she tries to teach them mutual respect as part of the Edison's school-wide commitment to restorative justice.

In an age where consent and boundaries feel like very big questions, she says it's a tricky balancing act. Of her second-graders, Piazza said: "I don't think they have any idea of what lies ahead. They're still pretty innocent — and I don't want to take [that] away from them."

All the same, Eloise and her classmates seem to be getting the message Jessie Lazcano hoped they would. Many repeated that true love always travels with respect — what Eloise called "being nice to people, and being kind, so they're happy."

So far, efforts to modernize sex education in Massachusetts schools — including the addition of a curriculum on 'affirmative consent' — have repeatedly stalled on Beacon Hill. But Worcester Rep. Jim O'Day, the measure's stalwart sponsor and a former social worker, refiled the legislation on Feb. 8.

This segment aired on February 14, 2019.

Related:

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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