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the lost children of rockdale county
teachers guide

LESSON 1: Debating the Issues of Rockdale County


Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

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FRONTLINE's "The Lost Children of Rockdale County" video and Web site are full of issues important to teens and their parents. This lesson plan provides guidelines for taking a closer look at some of these issues and expressing viewpoints via a debate format.

Estimated time: 2-3 class periods (block scheduling), including in-class research time

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Interpret information from the video "The Lost Children of Rockdale County" through a series of written questions and answers, and group discussion.
  • Evaluate the parameters of parental responsibility in the lives of teenagers.
  • Create formal debates around the issues.

Correlation to National Health Standards:

(from http://www.aahperd.org/aahe/natl_health_education_standards.html)

Health Education Standard 3:
Students will understand the relationship of family health to individual health through:

  • explaining the responsibilities inherent in dating relationships, marriage, and parenthood.

Health Education Standard 4:
Students will analyze the influence of culture, media, technology, and other factors on health.

Health Education Standard 5:
Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance health through:

  • analyzing health concerns that require collaborative decision making.

Health Education Standard 6:
Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health through:

  • expressing information and opinions about health issues.
  • demonstrating the ability to influence and support others in making positive health choices.
  • demonstrating the ability to work cooperatively when advocating for healthy communities.
  • demonstrating the ability to adapt health messages and communication techniques to the characteristics of a particular audience.

Materials needed:

  • TV and VCR
  • Videotape of "The Lost Children of Rockdale County"
  • Internet access

Teaching Strategy:

Day 1:

1. Ask students to think about these questions: "How involved are your parents in your lives as teenagers? Should they be more or less involved than they are now?" You may want to have them jot down their responses on paper rather than discussing them before the video. Show the first section of the "The Lost Children of Rockdale County," from 00:00 to 10:06.

Have students take notes about the details of the story. You might provide some guiding questions such as:

  1. When did this incident occur?
  2. What health problem prompted a close look at the community's teens?
  3. What alerted the authorities to the situation?
  4. What was unusual about this particular outbreak?
  5. How many positive cases of syphilis were recorded?
  6. How many teenagers were exposed to the disease?
  7. Describe the lifestyle or socio-economic status of most of the teens involved in the incidents.
  8. Where did the teenagers meet for their activities?
  9. What factors contributed to the syphilis outbreak? (What do you think caused it?)
  10. How could it have been prevented, in your opinion?
    Skip to segment 14:14 to 16:23 and continue with note taking or questions:
  11. During what time of day did most of their activities take place?
  12. How were the teens able to continue their actions without their parents' knowledge?
2. Discuss the content in the video with the class and suggest a broad, debatable issue inspired by the video, such as: "Should parents be legally responsible for the actions of their minor children?"

3. Show the video segments portraying:
Amy's story from 10:45 to 11:33 and then 18:40 to 24:52
DJ's story from 11:35 to 12:20 and 25:44 to 28:30
Kevin's story from 48:53 to 57:44
The town meeting from 37:49 to 40:10
Heather's story from 1:12:41 to 1:18:39

4. Propose the following resolutions based on what is presented in the video (or come up with some of your own):

Resolved: Parents should be legally responsible for the actions of their minor children. Resolved: "Neglect" is a type of child abuse.
Resolved: Laws allowing emancipated minors should be repealed.
Resolved: Children should be allowed to divorce their parents.
Resolved: Parents should be notified when a child seeks birth control, reproductive counseling, and/or abortion.

5. Divide the class into debate teams and assign each team a stance for one of the debate questions. Different debate formats and techniques are described at: http://www.ncteamericancollection.org/literary_debate_guidelines.htm

Choose a debate format to use (probably the best would be the formal team debate approach or the panel debate with class participation) and create a handout from the Web site referenced above. Spend some time discussing and clarifying the protocols and strategies so that students fully understand the nature of a good debate.

Day 2:

Research and plan the debates. Have students plan their arguments for their side of the issue. They may want to re-watch some of the video segments that pertain to their argument. They should also access the FRONTLINE Web site at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/georgia/ to find useful quotes and information to back their viewpoint.

Other Internet sites that may be useful include:

Oregon State Bar: Financial and Legal Responsibilities of Parents for Their Children

University of California, San Francisco: Does Sex Education Work?

SIECUS: Sexuality Education in the Schools: Questions and Answers

Planned Parenthood: Parental Notification Fact Sheet

Religious Tolerance: Parental Notification Pro's and Con's

Cornell University: Legal Information Institute: Emancipation of Minors

State Bar of California: The Age of Majority

American Bar Association: Children and the Law

Day 3:

Stage the debates. Following the chosen format, have students present their research findings in their debates. The students who are not debating should be responsible for taking notes and/or developing questions as they listen to their classmates' presentations.


  • Completion of notes or questions from video
  • Participation in discussion of video
  • Research and debate presentation
  • It would be preferable to have a scoring guide, or rubric, for students to see before they present their debates. It should be based on the debate guidelines previously discussed. A reference to help with developing rubrics can be found at: http://www.tensigma.org


1. Have students create surveys of several questions based on their debate topics. The survey responses can be taken from fellow students, teachers, or parents. Graph and/or discuss the survey results.

2. Develop role-play situations, having students switch between portraying teens and parents. Situations might be brainstormed, written on slips of paper, and drawn from a box so small groups of students might improvise parent-teen reactions. Class discussion should follow each vignette.

3. Contact the social services/child protection agency in your community. Ask a representative to come speak to the class about definitions and consequences of neglect and abuse; students should also find out about support services, classes, and resources available to parents.

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