The School Context in Middle Childhood Puberty and Health
School transitions may influence how well females adjust to puberty. One study found that when girls experienced multiple stressors, such as puberty and dating, while they were transitioning to a middle school, their self-esteem declined precipitously (Simmons & Blyth, 1987). School was no longer an “arena of comfort” and they were particularly vulnerable to stress and its related outcomes. Arenas of comfort are contexts in which individuals can relax and rejuvenate so that stressful changes in another arena can be managed. Supportive schools can serve that role or, in the case of early-maturing girls, add to the stress (Call & Mortimer, 2001). Doing poorly in school and being disengaged from the academic environment precedes substance abuse, delinquency, and dropping out (Bryant et al., 2003). However, research shows that engagement in school as well as achievement is a protective factor against substance abuse and delinquency.
Schools also educate youth about pubertal changes, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and contraceptive use. Forty-three of the 50 states now mandate that schools provide students with information about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. Approximately 88% of all high school students report being taught about HIV/AIDS infection in school (CDC, 2003).
In 2004, a federal child-nutrition law was passed requiring every school district that receives federal school-meal funds to establish a local “wellness policy” by the first day of the 2006–2007 school year. The law encourages the involvement of students and parents to help formulate policies to address nutrition education and physical activity goals, nutrition standards, and other school-based activities that serve to promote and reinforce wellness messages.
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