College Students Teach Health Ed

According to Peer Health Exchange statistics, one in four American teenagers is a binge-drinker, one in four smokes cigarettes, one in five sexually active teenage girls becomes pregnant each year, one in five teens experiences violence in a relationship and one in six is overweight or obese. Budget cuts have eliminated comprehensive health courses in many public high schools, leaving teenagers to face these health risks unprepared and alone. In 2003, Louise Davis and Katy Dion co-founded Peer Health Exchange to aid teenagers in high schools that lacked health education to make healthy decisions regarding sex, drugs, drinking and more issues that are growing concerns in the United States.

Peer Health Exchange trains college students in four urban areas (New York City, Boston, San Francisco Bay area and Chicago) and prepares them to teach one of twelve workshops. The college students travel to different schools in their city, holding workshops in the homeroom periods of ninth grade classes. The workshops are interactive and easy to comprehend for ninth graders and the benefits of the peer education are far-reaching.

In observing a session on sexual assault and rape, I noticed that the initial questions asked of the students revealed the underlying need for such a program. About 80 percent of the students responded “yes” when asked if sexual assault was ever the survivor’s fault. Over the course of an hour of acted-out scenarios and question-answer sessions with the group leaders, each student came to understand that this belief was unequivocally false. After the session, I asked Lloyd, a 14-year-old from the class who had answered “yes” to the question, what he learned from the class. He responded, “That rape is never the girl’s fault. You have to ask if it’s okay, and that if she doesn’t actually say ‘yes’, it means ‘no.’”

At the end of the twelve-session course, nearly 90 percent of the students claim that they will use something they learned from the Peer Health Exchange workshops in their daily lives. Peer Health Exchange is a straightforward yet highly effective organization that is doing great things to help address the health crisis that underprivileged youth face in the United States. The organization recently began a five-year growth plan to expand the program to new sites across the country with the hope of reaching as many youth as possible.

Peer Health Exchange

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