Natalie Chelsom, Nanaimo school district’s new personal and sexual health educator, shows the district’s new inclusive teaching manual, Beyond the Basics, which uses language to represent all bodies, relationships and orientations. Chelsom recently presented a vision to move forward on sexual health education in the district. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Natalie Chelsom, Nanaimo school district’s new personal and sexual health educator, shows the district’s new inclusive teaching manual, Beyond the Basics, which uses language to represent all bodies, relationships and orientations. Chelsom recently presented a vision to move forward on sexual health education in the district. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Nanaimo school district aims for consistency in sexual health education

School district presents its vision for sexual health education

If talking to a teenager about sex seems tough, try talking to a classroom of them.

That’s where Natalie Chelsom comes in.

Chelsom, Nanaimo school district’s new personal and sexual health educator, is not only talking to kids about their bodies and healthy relationships, but coaching teachers on research, resources andever-evolving” language around sexual health to help them deliver lessons.

The topic is part of the B.C. curriculum – which requires students to learn everything from body parts, to inappropriate and appropriate touching and healthy sexual decision making – but when Chelsom was hired last year, not every school was offering the same level of education.

The school district has given her the job of building capacity, consistency and equity so every student, in every grade and in every school gets the same sexual health lessons the curriculum requires.

At the district’s education committee meeting in early November, Chelsom presented a vision to advance the mission on sexual health, such as a hybrid model where teachers handle baseline instruction supplemented by training and the occasional experts, consistent resources, inclusion and accountability.

A new, inclusive teaching manual will soon be introduced to schools, covering language representative of all relationships, orientations and bodies instead of older resources that focus, for example, on male-female relationships. It’s in addition to a personal safety program, called Kids in the Know, the district has invested in.

Chelsom is also looking at a culturally sensitive program to teach sexual health to new Canadians and is set to launch a new website that will not only be a resource for teachers and students, but will allow parents to see what their kids are learning.

“We know that some students are graduating without getting the lessons that they ought to receive, so we need to think about what the accountability is and how can we make sure every student is getting what its mandated,” said Chelsom to trustees last month. “When we don’t do the job that is expected of us we see a ripple effect into our community health as well as the health of our partners, the health system, people’s relationships.”

Chelsom has been a teacher in the district, and between 2008-2010 delivered sexual health to local schools as an educator for Options for Sexual Health.

A challenge, she said, was schools had a hard time coming up with the fees to pay for the service and often left it to the parent advisory councils – but PACs have shifted away from paying, leaving teachers responsible to deliver the instruction.

Chelsom said teachers were always making sure sexual health was getting delivered but there wasn’t an equitable environment, with some schools having very high quality sexual health education if the teacher had specific training or was able to hire an outside provider, while other schools didn’t have the money to pay for someone and didn’t have teachers who necessarily knew how to present the information.

She’s also seen barriers such as teachers not feeling prepared because they are untrained.

“We want to make sure that it doesn’t depend on what area of town a kid comes from, or the teacher they have, but that all schools are following a larger guiding principle so we can ensure all of our students are feeling safe and valued and are getting the skills and information they need to make healthy, safe decisions,” said Chelsom.

“I think that we’re still in the very first stages of a greater plan, so we’ve done the scanning, we’ve seen what the strengths are, we’ve seen the areas we can improve on, and I think we’re just about ready, maybe next year, to take some steps forward.”

Assistant superintendent Bob Esliger said the district wants to ensure it’s providing a standard delivery of sexual health education and an advantage of a sexual health educator is that she can meet with teachers, prepare guidelines, provide expertise and ensure an understanding of the scope of the curriculum.

“So it’s all coming from within the district,” said Esliger.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cyclists pick up swag and cycling trail maps at city Bike to Work Week ‘celebration station’ a few years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo’s active transportation plan will be about more than infrastructure

City working on goals to double walking trips and quintuple cycling and busing trips

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
20 tires punctured in ‘slashing spree’ in Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP ask for any tips about Jan. 12-14 incidents in Country Club and Boxwood areas

Kinsmen Participark in Beban Park will be closed next week so city workers can remove dangerous trees and invasive plant species. The work is the start of an improvement project that includes replacing signs and fitness stations in the spring. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo fitness park to close for removal of hazard trees and invasive plants

Tree cutting to start in Beban Park’s Kinsmen Participark as part of improvement project

Police hope to find the owners of two canoes found at Descanso Bay on Gabriola Island. (Photo submitted)
RCMP seek owners of canoes found on Gabriola Island that possibly came from Nanaimo

Two older canoes, found by police at Descanso Bay, could have washed ashore with recent storms

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Smaller egg farmers find themselves in a David and Goliath situation when it comes to major producers and chain-grocery store shelf space. (Citizen file)
Vancouver Island egg producer cries foul over ‘Island’ label

Egg farmer frustrated with regulations allowing mainland-laid eggs to be labelled ‘Island’

Police and fire crews at work at a fire scene at Mount Prevost School (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Classes cancelled by fire at a Duncan-area school for the second time this week

Fire this morning at Duncan area middle school follows Monday blaze at nearby elementary

Most Read