Health, biology, and literature offer teachable moments on weed

Sabrina Werby, Staff Writer

California’s marijuana debate is smoking hot. But while politicians, law enforcement, and voters struggle to decide the future of marijuana, students at Urban address the same issues in their classrooms.

Urban’s health curriculum covers marijuana basics. “There is a lot of misinformation about (marijuana),” says Jennifer Epstein, health teacher and faculty adviser for Urban’s Health Initiative for Peer Education (HIPE).

Epstein says that she makes sure students are aware that marijuana is addictive, that it affects memory and learning, and that “the earlier a person starts (smoking marijuana), the more likely they are to become dependent.”

Beyond the potential health risks and benefits of marijuana, according to Epstein, the class also examines “legalization pros and cons.”

Robert Lord (’13) confirms that in health class, “we talked about the effects (of marijuana) and how common it is.”

However, the open style of Urban’s health curriculum is slightly confusing to some students. Marina Hydeman (’11) says she was receiving mixed messages with Urban’s “just say know” policy. “In health, it’s more, ‘if you do it, don’t let us know about it,’” Hydeman said.

Urban’s neurobiology class also begins with basics. “We talked about drugs in general and how they affect the brain,” says Hydeman. After studying the effects of marijuana on the brain, students debate the issue in a legal context.

Urban’s Spanish 4A class has a different spin. In teacher Antony Reyes’ Spanish 4A class, students discussed how marijuana was used by a character in “La muerte de Marielito” by Pablo La Rosa. The short story discusses “a Cuban immigrant who felt disconnected from his past and isolated,” says Reyes. He added that he does not think it is important to talk about marijuana in a classroom environment, but that “it just came up in the literature.”

Many students believe Urban’s location, one block away from the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, makes marijuana especially relevant both inside and outside the classroom. Will Rothman (’13) says that the topic of marijuana is “definitely a huge part of the Urban culture.” Rothman also feels that “if (Urban classrooms) can talk about other things that will be embarrassing, why not talk about drugs?”

Peer Education Theater discusses marijuana in an Urban cultural context. “The class is not about (marijuana),” says Oliver Klingenstein (’11). “The class is about spilling what is on your mind and (marijuana) came up because kids were writing about it.”

School Counselor Kaern Kreyling agrees. “Peer Ed is all about what is going on in kids’ lives,” she said. The topic of marijuana “comes from the students. Some years we talk about it and some years we don’t; if no one writes about marijuana, its not part of the show.”

“The more students have an understanding of themselves, the more power they have in the things they are involved in,” Kreyling added.