As their fall semester drew to a close, two groups of San Benito High School students huddled over the lyrics to the 1965 Beatles’ song, “Run for Your Life,” and Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit, “Blank Space.” Citing the lines about an insane fit of jealousy in the Beatles’ tune (“Well, I'd rather see you dead, little girl/Than to be with another man”) and the consequences of poor dating choices celebrated by Swift (“Oh my God, look at that face/You look like my next mistake”), the teens wasted little time engaging with the day’s lesson on how the media impacts gender roles, violence, and relationships.
Leading the class activity was Ana Lopez, the on-site coordinator and facilitator of the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign, “a program designed to increase knowledge and skills for building healthy relationships among” SBHS students, according to the campaign’s flier.
“What message is the song giving to you?,” Lopez asked the 15 students who joined her on that cool December morning.
“He would rather see her dead than in love with someone else,” one girl said of the Beatles’ song. (Because of privacy concerns, the identities of students quoted in this article have been omitted).
Lopez then played both songs on her laptop.
“It’s going to be forever or it's going to go down in flames,” Lopez said, repeating Swift’s lyrics.
“How does music influence the way we think of relationships?” she asked, before noting, “Listening to songs over and over again, it sticks into our minds, even if it’s unhealthy.”
In its second year, the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign is the product of a partnership forged between SBHS and Community Solutions, the Santa Clara County-based, nonprofit agency that provides a host of human services to residents of both Santa Clara and San Benito counties.
Erica Elliott prevention program manager for Community Solutions, stated in an email to BenitoLink that a Rape Prevention and Education Grant is funding the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign. Secured through California’s Department of Public Health, the grant will expire in 2019.
Community Solutions has been a fixture on the SBHS campus since 2012—a period when administrators and counselors were noticing an uptick in female disciplinary issues centered around “conflicts and unhealthy relationships,” Principal Adrian Ramirez said in an email to BenitoLink.
Lopez, who is in her first year as a prevention specialist with Community Solutions, explained that teen violence was also increasing countywide at the time, prompting her agency to reach out to the high school.
Limited in scope, various programs were implemented at the school until the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign made its debut last year.
Comprised of three components, the campaign address issues such as bullying, school violence, and campus safety.
The student component focuses on creating a corps of healthy relationship ambassadors; students who can apply to their own lives what they have learned through the In Touch with Teens curriculum—a series of six lessons that cover such topics as the dynamics of power and control in relationships and identifying the characteristics of sexual harassment to explaining the role the media plays in shaping attitudes about race and sexuality.
Participation in the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign is voluntary, though the school’s Student Support Services staff will at times refer students to the program, explained Lopez.
Thus far, two cohorts of roughly 20 students each have participated in the program. Lopez is planning at least two more before the school year ends.
Principal Ramirez explained the program’s value to both the school’s mission and his vision for the campus, adding that he would like to see more students exposed to its curriculum. But he is reluctant to impose another graduation requirement on the student body, preferring, at least for now, to keep the program voluntary.
“I’m not opposed at looking for a way to mandate students to participate," he stated. "However, history has shown us that it is not the most effective way to provide these type of services."
The Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign’s second component consists of providing parents or guardians the skills and resources they need to have open and constructive conversations with their children about healthy relationships.
Held at SBHS and open to the public, the parent education workshops are offered twice a year. The first was held in October, and the second, “Parenting in the Technology Age,” is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8.
The program’s final component involves “community-level intervention,” Elliot said.
To that end, a school-wide survey was conducted at the end of the 2015-16 academic year and at the beginning of this school year, asking students and staff to evaluate “safe and unsafe spaces on campus, assess reasons for safety issues…and the ways the school can improve campus safety,” stated Elliot.
Data from the safe-mapping exercise, as the survey was called, will be used to formulate a Baler Environmental Task Force—or BEST Team—consisting of various stakeholders “to develop recommendations and action steps to address safety on campus,” according to the Healthy Teen Relationship’s informational flier.
After leading students through the lesson on the ways music impacts relationships, Lopez introduced the next activity by handing each student three Post-it Notes and asking, “What are the factors of a healthy relationship?”
As students scribbled words such as,“trust, honesty," and "communication," Lopez drew a three-by-three table on the board, labeling each section with one of six words starting with the letter “C.”
The nine female and six male students then began placing their sticky notes in the box that best fit their responses. A collage of pink and yellow soon formed under the headings: “Commitment, Communication, Compromise, Compatibility, Conduct, Consideration.”
“We all need different things for our relationships to be healthy,” Lopez said at the end of a group discussion about where students had placed their Post-it Notes.
For the final activity, students were placed pairs and asked to fill out a worksheet titled, “Dating Game Questions.”
“Where did you learn about how men and women were suppose to act in a relationship?” the first question asked.
One female student wrote, “From the movies.” Her male partner responded, “From my brother.”
Lopez circulated around the class, spending a few minutes with students as they worked their way through the questionnaire. She listened, but always steered the conversation toward the path of healthy relationships.
“It’s about raising awareness, changing the mindset, and empowering students with tools and knowledge to help others,” she told BenitoLink of the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign.
A 14-year-old male freshman, who joined Lopez in her interview, agreed with his instructor’s assessment, explaining that some of his peers “have no idea about about healthy relationships.”
But he emphasized that how that information gets delivered matters.
“I’ve known about about these topics we’ve talked about, but she (Lopez) has explained it to me in a different way and it has helped,” the teen said.
For more information about the Healthy Teen Relationships Campaign, contact Ana Lopez at San Benito High School, (831) 637-5831, or via email at, [email protected].
"Parenting in the Technology Age" is a parent education workshop presented by Community Solutions and hosted at SBHS on Wed, Feb. 8 (time and place TBD). Community Solutions will post more information about the upcoming event on BenitoLink.
Crisis Hotline for Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence
(South County & San Benito County)
SafeChat provides online chat services to domestic violence survivors.