Saturday, January 19, 2013

Trusting Kids - With Great Results

        Sophia & Tino  Photo by M Barrett Miller
Yesterday I accompanied Barbara Velatequi, teacher and founder of Aspen (Aids Student Peer Educators at Newport), at Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington, when she brought a number of students to another high school in her district to teach about HIV/AIDS/STI’s.

Recently I wrote about my visit to her classes, and her peer training sessions, at Newport High School. That article (article link) generated responses from all over the world.
Unfortunately, the majority of messages I received shared the absence of training, support, and education in communities facing dire health challenges. Many messages included the wish that schools in their country would create peer training as exemplified by Ms. Velatequi and her students.
I wrote back to many people telling them that though these kids are doing incredible work there are other schools, and school districts/administrators, here in the state of Washington that will not allow this training in their schools.
The rationale for not allowing young people to have access to information is complex, though fear and ignorance play a large role in these kinds of decisions that leave our young people at risk.

Sophia and Tino, seniors from Newport High School (12th level, ages 17/18) addressed sophomores (10th level, ages 15/16) at Interlake High School, in Bellevue, Washington for ninety minutes. Lindzee Alvarez’s health class was the host and co-organizer, with Barbara Velatequi, for this training.

Before starting the lesson the students were reminded, a number of times, that it was completely fine if they felt uncomfortable with the subject matter and wanted to leave the room.
None did.

Sophia and Tino introduced HIV to the group by having a number of students wear tee shirts with various health status designations on the front of the shirt. Sophia grouped the students according to those designations to show how the body fights infection. When she introduced the person wearing the HIV tee shirt to the group the students quickly realized how rapidly the body lost its defenses.
A simple, effective, persuasive demonstration that got all the kids attention!

Charts, slides, posters, hand outs supported the lesson as it moved from HIV/AIDS to other Sexually Transmitted Infections. A poster outlining the differences between viral, bacterial and parasitic infections helped the students understand which malady could be cured and which ones were lifetime challenges. 

As the following infections were discussed, along with slides showing the effect, students were told if they were a virus, bacterial or a parasite and whether or not they could be cured.
Human Papillomavirus, Chlamydia, Genital Herpes, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Scabies, Pubic Lice (crabs) along with the symptoms, medical procedures for detection, remedies and cures were fully discussed. Sophia and Tino were very matter of fact with each infection telling the students where they could be tested and how best to protect themselves from all infections. They both handled questions in a respectful way even when the questions elicited a bit of laughter from the crowd.

Laced throughout their presentation were reminders that abstinence is a valid choice that offers peace of mind, on many levels, to this age group.

When the review of STI’s was completed Sophia and Tino reviewed birth control, disease protection methods, vaccines (PMV) their effectiveness, the range of choices, where students could receive help, where they could seek confidential testing and how to make informed choices about what kind of condom to use.
After Sophia and Tino showed the kids how to properly use a condom they paired off the kids into twos handing one of the partners a condom. A couple of kids were a bit skittish about unwrapping and applying a condom to their partners outstretched fingers but most took part without a blink. They quickly realized why improper use of a condom has a significantly higher rate of failure than a properly used condom.
Towards the closing minutes Sophia and Tino summarized their lesson and thanked the sophomores for their attention and support of the “Peer Education” program at Newport High School.
They received rousing applause for their presentation!

Having watched six of these presentations I am convinced that training and trusting kids to peer educate is one very strong solution to this ongoing health challenge.

The very good news is that Aspen kids will be making a presentation next month to Graduate students pursuing a Masters of Social Work at the University of Washington.

I look forward to watching how these older students integrate the lesson.

M. Barrett Miller