Helping Teens Take Charge of Their Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Chicago is currently number one in the country for cases of Gonorrhea and number two for Chlamydia. This is seen very clearly at my site, Uplift Community High School.

Chicago Public Schools has a policy that students must receive Comprehensive Sex Education every year from Kindergarten through 12th grade; however, due to staff resources, time, and decisions, many choose not to implement it in every grade. At Uplift, I teach sex ed classes to 9th graders. Although my classes help educate the 9th graders about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and how to use condoms, many of the older students have never had sex education or had it many years ago. Therefore, I wanted to expand sex education to other grades to ensure that all students are aware about the dangers of STIs.

Since I was unable to go into classrooms and educate older students about rates and symptoms of STIs, I had to think of other ways to reach out to them. Before Spring Break, I decided to conduct a school-wide STI testing poster campaign to make kids aware of the symptoms of STIs and encourage them to get tested and treated for free at the school health center. I recruited the help from two teachers who already had an after-school craft club at Uplift. They loved my idea and were eager to help in any way possible. Both teachers offered extra credit to any student who created an STI testing poster. I also was able to get the director of School Based Health Centers on board with my idea, and she agreed to provide Target gift cards to the creators of the best posters.

Once the idea was in place, I made an announcement at the end of the day and gave teachers the announcement to tell the kids to go to Craft Club on Wednesdays or stop by the clinic to get materials. I also stopped by Craft Club to educate the students about STIs and give them some useful facts to use on their posters. Around the same time, I also created my own flyer to supplement the students’ posters that I handed out during lunches and hung around school.

Despite the challenges, the poster contest was a success. We had 12 colorful and creative poster submissions that were also very informative. The art teacher and the other members of the health center helped me pick the top three winners who were given a Target gift card. The campaign also increased awareness of STIs, most importantly that the most common symptom is no symptom at all, and increased testing and treatment in the clinic. Student involvement in the campaign helped increase interest about the topic and created a unique way to learn outside of a classroom. Many of the students shared with me that they had never heard some of this information before and were glad they could help inform their fellow students. Although there were many barriers preventing the students of Uplift from learning accurate information about STIs, they were still able to take charge of their health.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2016-17 member Ellie Port.

Ellie is a Health Educator at Heartland Health Center - Uplift/Wilson.