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May 13, 2009 > 'Nightmare on Puberty Street' not too scary for parents

'Nightmare on Puberty Street' not too scary for parents

By Miriam G. Mazliach

"Am I normal?" That's the question posed by the show's characters as they ponder changes going on in their minds and bodies. Recently, parents in the Fremont Unified School District were invited to a preview of "Nightmare on Puberty Street," a theatrical performance that demonstrates the many stresses and issues of concern to junior high school students.

Presented by representatives from Kaiser Permanente's Educational Theatre Programs, with the cooperation of the district's Health and Sex Education Advisory Committee, over 50 parents watched a taped version of the show. Eighth graders at various district junior high schools will see live presentations in upcoming weeks.

The skits focus on four characters - Jerry, Malika, Natalie, and Nick - dealing with the pressures of puberty in a variety of situations. Family issues, adolescence, sexuality, smoking, being cool, peer pressure, violence, depression and thoughts of suicide are the themes depicted.

Through this journey, students learn how to make healthy choices in difficult situations as well as seek out help and resources available to them. The performance itself utilizes colorful sets, hip language, rap music, and dance to deliver the message that it's normal to question the changes going on internally and externally during adolescence.

"Nightmare on Puberty Street" is directed specifically to junior high students and is free of charge to schools and the community. Kaiser's Frieda de Lackner and Mark Punzal informed parents at the preview that all themes are based on facts and statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the American Pediatric Association and the National Institutes of Health.

According to de Lackner, "The performers are employees in the Educational Theatre Programs at Kaiser Permanente. They have had 120 hours of training and receive extensive training every year. We also bring in counselors and health experts to work with them and do role playing so that they are prepared."

Versions of this play have been performed since 1991, with yearly updates to keep the script current. Based on suggestions from the advisory group - made up of parents, students, teachers, counselors and physicians - the performance is seen as a tool for students and their parents to deal with issues occurring during adolescence. Watching the performance affords opportunities for dialogue between students, parents and teachers.

Parent reaction to the presentation was mostly favorable, although several were concerned that parents were depicted as uninvolved or unsupportive. Kaiser representatives said they would take this into consideration as the script evolves.

One parent wanted to know what performers would say to a student asking about the age at which someone could begin sexual activity. Punzal explained that doctors say kids at this age are not mature enough, either emotionally or physically, to have sex and that the only definite protection from transmittable diseases or pregnancy is abstinence.

"Kids are encouraged to talk to their parents and doctors. If needed, we also hand out a California Youth Crisis Line card (1-800-843-5200) that has additional contact information."

District Director of Secondary Education Dennis Brown added, "By law, we are required to provide HIV/AIDS prevention education from the 7th grade on up. We also have a comprehensive Sex Education option that this district adopted in 1992. We looked for a program that communicated to students in their own pre-teen language. The Kaiser program is updated annually, and it's had a very positive community response."

During May and June, Fremont junior high school students will be able to see a 45-minute performance of "Nightmare on Puberty Street," followed by a question and answer period. Specific dates can be found at www.fremont.k12.ca.us/ParentResources.

Parents who do not want their child to watch the performance may opt out by completing the appropriate school form.

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