When I think about the quality of health education programs, I envision a 5 level scale: awful, pretty bad, mediocre, good, and comprehensive. I was fortunate enough to have a mediocre health education program throughout my middle school and high school years. It was by no means comprehensive or really all that informative but we were never blatantly lied to or shamed by our teachers for having questions about sex. We learned how our bodies worked and discussed mental health. We occasionally watched Lifetime movies that highlighted the dangers of abusive relationships. Abstinence was definitely touted as the best and most responsible answer to all things sexual but we also learned some birth control basics. Our lessons were in-depth enough to be supplemented with Cosmo magazines and late night conversations with older friends. I wouldn’t consider the health education I received good but it wasn’t explicitly bad either.
Many of you reading this have had different experiences with health education. I wish I could say many of you received a comprehensive health education, but that’s not true. We are facing a health education CRISIS and it is affecting our teenagers and our future as a nation. We heard from Todd Akin a few weeks ago that women who are legitimately raped rarely get pregnant. We may wonder, why would anyone ever say something so awful? But when you peel back the layers of baffling misinformation, I think Akin’s comments highlight something really important: the amount of misinformation our students are receiving related to sexual health is astounding.
One in four teenagers is a binge-drinker. One in three teenage girls will become pregnant. One in five teenagers experiences violence in a relationship. These are disturbing numbers and these are just some of the reasons why I teach with Peer Health Exchange (PHE). PHE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to give teenagers the knowledge and skills they need to make their own decisions about their health. PHE does this by training college students to teach comprehensive health workshops in public high schools that lack health education. We teach 9th grade students across Boston workshops about drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pregnancy prevention, STIs and HIV, healthy relationships, rape and sexual assault, nutrition and physical activity, sexual decision making, and abusive relationships. Without our team of Health Educators, many students in Boston wouldn’t receive any information about these topics.
I have been teaching with PHE for over 2 years now. Going to a classroom is the highlight of my week. PHE provides training in classroom management, public speaking, and the actual curriculum. But nothing prepares you for the moment when you see students “get it.” When you look out and everyone seems to be going “Ahh…so that’s how that works.”
An awesome video featuring last year’s Boston volunteers:
~This post is an opinion post sent to BU Culture Shock by Jill Ferraro concerning the U.S. Health Care System and Peer Health Exchange. If you would like to contribute a post to BU Culture Shock, please send a post to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading “guest post”.~
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- I Wanna Be a Shark | Culture Shock | March 29, 2013