During Cynthia Bettio's first time teaching a grade 11 parenting course, she said that many of the students had questions about their bodies and sexual health so she started a pilot program to better understand themselves. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bettio

Program aims to empower youth in their relationships

  • May 3, 2015

RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - Cynthia Bettio said it is rare for a teacher to get an instant feeling of satisfaction from their students, but last semester, she witnessed her Grade 11 parenting class go from being unsure to empowered.

“You have lots of moments like that in teaching, where you sit back and you think, ‘Okay good. They got it,’ ” said Bettio. “Oftentimes, the benefit of it comes to you years later when you run into one of those students.”

Bettio was working with Karen Hemingway, executive director or FertilityCare Toronto, on a youth pilot project to teach high school students about their bodies and their sexual health. On the last day of the pilot project, the students were enthusiastic to learn more.

“On the last day of sessions we had with the girls, they said ‘You should be on the announcements announcing this to the whole school and the boys need to know this,’ ” said Hemingway. “This is our goal to really empower the girls to be positive about relationships and about themselves.”

It was Bettio’s first time teaching the Grade 11 parenting class at Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto. Part of the course curriculum deals with conception and sexual health. She said in her class of 24 students, there were five boys and the rest were girls. She found that many of the girls had many questions about their body.

Because FertilityCare has a longstanding relationship with the school, Bettio approached Hemingway when she was visiting the school to facilitate a presentation with the Grade 12 religion classes.

“I ran into (Hemingway) when she was doing one of her talks and we had a quick meeting,” said Bettio. “She said ‘We’ve got a pilot project and we’ve been looking for a school to run this in,’ and I said ‘Well, here’s your school.’ ”

After the meeting, Bettio presented the idea to Jean Vanier’s principal, Frank Dalla Corte, and on Nov. 19, the pilot project was launched.

Fifteen girls participated in the program last semester. Every two weeks, Hemingway, with FertilityCare associates Margaret Smith and Monique Achong-Lindsey, visit the first period class for a general presentation.

After the presentation, each of the participants is excused from their second period class for 15 minutes to have a one-on-one consultation session with one of the three FertilityCare representatives.

“Initially, some of the girls were a little bit stand-offish about it,” said Bettio. “But they got to the point where they really looked forward to Karen and the ladies coming in.”

Bettio and Hemingway are now working with Dalla Corte and board superintendent Nicola D’Avella to expand the program to all grade levels at Jean Vanier. They are looking to create specific programs from Grade 9 to 12 to “create a culture of understanding of both genders.”

“We love working with youth, actually. It’s one of our focuses that we really enjoy,” said Hemingway. “We’ve always heard through many, many years from people... that women should be hearing this earlier and we should be starting in high school. We hear this all the time and we agree with that, but if we don’t have funding to do that, it’s very difficult.”

Bettio is still working out the logistics of launching a school-wide program at Jean Vanier, but she is hoping to launch the expanded program in September.

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