“I always wanted to work in school health,” says Lara Altman, MPH/ MSW ’13. She’s been getting that chance for the past year, overseeing sexual health programs for Chicago Public Schools and their nearly 400,000 students. Altman supervises sexual health education, sexual health services and LGBTQ initiatives for the Chicago district, the third largest in the nation.
At the Brown School, Altman focused on reproductive and maternal health, so the job was “a natural fit.” She said the district benefits from a very progressive sexual health education policy that was adopted in 2013.
One of Altman’s key jobs is to train teachers to become sexual health education instructors in grades K-12. Each school is required to provide sexual health education at every grade level, and instruction includes anatomy/physiology, puberty/adolescent development, pregnancy/reproduction, HIV/STIs, identity, healthy relationships and personal safety.
Expanding knowledge about sexual health is vital, given that Cook County ranks #2 in the U.S. in cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, and the school district has large health disparities among students, including disparities in sexual health.
Teacher turnover and lack of resources are recurring issues, she says. “Schools are so under-resourced, it’s hard for them to find time for sexual-health education when there are so many demands and not enough time for core academic classes.”
Altman sees the difference her work can make, and she finds it satisfying, she says. “It’s extremely challenging but really rewarding.”