Case Western's Peer Educators Take Different Approach To Sex Education In Cleveland

red condom with packs on a...
red condom with packs on a...

A new university-led program is shaking up sex education in one Cleveland community.

Kids are the sex education teachers in an after-school peer educator program started by Case Western Reserve University's Infectious Disease Alliance. The program has trained teens from high schools in and around Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood to educate other students about sexually transmitted infections and birth control, said Amanda Healan, Co-director of the grant-funded alliance and faculty member at the university.

The program contrasts with other attempts to educate teens about sex. Earlier this month, an adult presenter in a Tennessee classroom made questionable claims that a new STI is as deadly as AIDS and that life begins at conception. The Cleveland peer educators, however, take a more open approach, as high schoolers talk to high schoolers about topics that include dental dams and favored condoms, according to an article in The Plain Dealer. Sex education in Glenville High School, however, is often inconsistent, depending on the year and teacher, said Healan.

The Infectious Disease Alliance started the program after noticing the high rate of STIs in the low-income Glenville neighborhood, and getting positive responses from neighborhood groups about the idea of more sex education, Healan told The Huffington Post. The Case Western Reserve organization, which researches local infectious disease needs, set up an application process to hire peer educators, who are paid for the work. The idea is that the peer educators can influence other students on the topic of safe sex.

There are currently four peer educators. All participated in intense training last summer. They've spent the school year meeting with adults from the Infectious Disease Alliance to work on projects, volunteer at the health clinic next to Glenville High School and give presentations about safe sex for local community centers, said Healan.

The Plain Dealer spoke to one peer educator, 18-year-old Destiny White, about working at the health clinic's “teen night,” where adolescents get tested for STIs and receive sexual health services. After teens are examined, White gives them a gift kit, which includes condoms, hand sanitizer and supportive notes. She spoke to the reporter about making sex education fun for teens by doing things like tasting flavored condoms.

Healan said the Infectious Disease Alliance and its programs have been welcomed by parents.

“The parents are aware of what's going on as far as sexual activity of young people,“ said Healan. “They share our concerns, they were really open to collaborating to try and reduce these numbers" of STIs.

"I think we’re in a good position to rapport with our next round of peer educators," Healan said. "We’re in a much better place than we were a year ago. I'm really excited to continue momentum we’ve created over last year."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Amanda Healan was a doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University and program manager of the ID Alliance.

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