Visiting a high school class

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Outside, the sun draws a warm, damp perfume from the lawns surrounding Barrington High School, while inside a group of young men and women - juniors and seniors - discuss the challenges boys face in growing into manhood.

''It's the media that puts the pressure on boys to stand up to a certain stereotypical image of what it is to be a man, and it includes a lot of sex,'' says one young man with the tones of a social scientist. ''But I think people are doing better at realizing what's right for themselves. In that way things are getting better, but there's still a lot of pressure.''

In this high school of 1,000 students, the class, titled ''Human Health and Emotional Development,'' is one of two that integrate sex education with schooling in the emotional aspects of adolescent development. In this and the other course, ''Social Issues in Biology,'' the students incorporate the facts they learn into discussions of such topics as peer pressure, role models, and child abuse.

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Jo Ann Putnam-Scholes, who has been teaching the courses here for the past decade, says she has seen an encouraging evolution during that time. ''The ideas and feelings, the values issues were not the topics they wanted to discuss (a few years ago). It was the hush-hush facts - abortion, birth control - they were all curious about. Now they have the information,'' she adds, ''and they realize that's not enough. Now the big issues are the personal, more philosophical ones.''

Barrington sits lush and low on a green finger of land pointing out into the Atlantic, a middle-class bedroom community of 25,000. It's a place where unmarried pregnant girls who choose to have their babies ''go away'' to await delivery - a practice which might seem anachronistic at a time when many high schools have day-care facilities for unwed mothers.

Yet that does not mean the students here are removed from the world beyond Barrington's neatly trimmed confines. Television, movies, and the cars many of them own have seen to that. Asked in one class how many of them know a girl who became pregnant while a high school student, almost all raise their hands.

They also display a keen awareness of the social and economic aspects of teen-age childbearing. In one class that is discussing a newspaper account of ''children who have children'' in New York's Hispanic community, one girl notes, ''Those kids (in the story) are bored and have no goals. It's like they think having babies will put a purpose in their life. But it's not the same for us who are looking forward to college and careers.''

Asked for their opinions of the two courses, many students say they are helpful in seeing confusing issues more clearly. But one young man says he thinks such classes should begin in junior high.

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