Each year, Childhood visits each of our projects throughout the US and around the world. In early February, Nicole Epps, Childhood USA’s Managing Director of Programs & Advocacy, visited our three projects in San Francisco. She was able to attend one of Peer Health Exchanges’ student workshops.
In room 153 of the Aspire-Lionel Wilson School in East Oakland, California, ten 9th grade boys prepare for their Peer Health Exchange (PHE) workshop. The bilingual students range in size, volume and the look of adolescence. At 2:50 PM PHE Peer Educators and U.C. Berkeley students, Alyssa* and Jason enter. They remind the boys about the PHE agreements to be respectful, to speak the truth and most importantly be comfortable with being uncomfortable. The workshop begins.
Today, the boys are asked, “Who would you ask for information about staying safe sexually?” It is affirming that the students mention parents, family members and rarely mention friends. The workshop continues with defining and recognizing websites that provide valid information and resources. The students break up into groups to identify online resources that they could share with friends for health information.
Next, the students model conversations about staying safe sexually. They are visibly uncomfortable discussing the difference between myth vs. facts as it relates to sexual behavior. However, as they become more comfortable, they share personal anecdotes and even class clown Chris is interested. As he lowers the hood of his sweatshirt, Chris follows along in his PHE workbook and asks questions about the types of birth control. The class is amazed to learn that 95% of couples under the age of 30, who do not use protection will be pregnant within a year. The boys emphatically declare that they do not want to be parents in 9th grade.
The workshop ends as each student shares an example of what they would tell a friend they learned today. As the 13 and 14 year old boys leave the class, they are still discussing which clinic is nearest to their school, brimming with the pride of learning something new. In one hour, in a multi-racial neighborhood with gang activity, gun violence and teen pregnancy, ten boys have been armed with PHE knowledge. Knowledge helping them make intelligent and safe choices in their lives. Childhood USA supports programs like PHE because we believe that children can only be safe from abuse and exploitation when they have the educational tools to make the best decisions in their lives.
Peer Health Exchange’s mission is to empower young people with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to make healthy decisions. They do this by training college students to teach a skills- based health curriculum in under-resourced high schools across the country.
*All names have been changed for privacy
Text by: Nicole Epps
Photo Credit: Peer Health Exchange