Meet Teacher Emma

By Amani Rivers, Class of 2022

Emma Cohen-Westbrooke describes herself as someone who “benefited from excellent sex education from home and mediocre sex education from school.” This adolescent experience drew her to sex education and motivates her in her new role as Penn Charter’s first Health, Wellness and Human Sexuality Educator. 

After receiving feedback from current and former students, Penn Charter launched a national search for this newly created position. The Health, Wellness and Human Sexuality educator will not only teach comprehensive sexual education, she will also participate in curricular reviews and professional development to ensure all members of the Penn Charter community feel supported, valued and safe.

Teacher Emma plans to put students, and their questions, at the center of the work she will do at Penn Charter. While she knows the influence sex education can have on a child’s life, “For sexuality education to be effective, students need to see the information as personally relevant and meaningful in their own lives.”

Encouraging students to engage, discuss and ask questions is critical to her teaching. “I ask students questions that require them to consider their own values and perspectives on a topic,” she explained. “If I'm up in front of the classroom lecturing on a topic, I am not creating opportunities for my students to see themselves as intimately connected to the topics we're covering.” 

In addition, future students can expect a sense of humor (one that fits into PC’s Quaker values, of course) and the ability to have fun while learning about such important topics. 

Teacher Emma graduated from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a focus on African Diaspora Studies and Art History. Emma was born in Oakland, California and, before joining the Penn Charter community, she lived in Ithaca, New York, working as the Director of Education for Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes. In this position, she oversaw the youth education program, working with high school and middle school students to provide sex education and promote youth leadership. Her passion shines through with the additional work she has done, such as facilitating a weekly LGBTQ+ group for youth in the community and providing professional development opportunities for teachers on sexuality and gender-related topics. 

As she enters the Penn Charter community, Emma has focused a lot of her effort on reviewing the current preK-12 health education curriculum, reviewing the work of the Gender Equity, Sexuality and Consent Task Force, and getting to know students and teachers. She also spends her time observing classes and visiting with Penn Charter’s Upper School clubs, such as SAGA, where she is a faculty advisor. She says that getting to know Penn Charter's community will allow her to find success in her future work, because “nothing we do is going to work if it doesn’t make sense for [the school community] Penn Charter is.”

As for her reflections on her first couple months at Penn Charter, Emma has learned that “(Penn Charter) is an incredible place that cares deeply about doing things well and with care and thought.” 

“Pushing us forward is the next task,” Emma says in closing, a determined smile on her face.