This op-ed was submitted by Jenny Brice
of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children and the Edison High Health Resources Center, Dawn Carter of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. and the Northeast High HRC and Lindsey Krenzel of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the West Philadelphia High HRC.
'CAN I get an STD from oral sex?"
This is one of the questions we face each day working with high-school students. (And the answer is yes.)
With the Centers for Disease Control's recent report on STDs among female teens, there's been a lot of discussion of teens and STDs. From our experience with the Health Resource Center Program, we'd like to share what it's like to address these issues every day.
Since 1991, the HRC Program has supported Philadelphia public high-school students in making responsible choices about their reproductive health and relationships. Each school-based HRC provides a confidential place where students can receive counseling and education.
Students also can get condoms. Parents are told about the program and have the option to indicate that they do not want condoms provided to their child. The program also helps to link students with health services in the community.
There are HRCs at 11 city public high schools, and two more are set to open before the end of the year. During the 2006-07 school year, more than 6,000 students used services at nine HRCs.
We serve as program coordinators. An HRC coordinator is a counselor, social worker or health educator from a local health-care provider. We work to create a caring and nonjudgmental environment at the HRC.
It doesn't matter if the question is "Could I get pregnant?" or "Can I use a sandwich bag instead of a condom?" We provide the facts and help students to build the skills they need to make healthy decisions. For many students, the HRC becomes a haven where they can get help and support for any concern.
For example, Marie is a freshman at Northeast High. She visited the HRC and asked: "Why is it uncool to be a virgin?"
Marie and Dawn Cater, the coordinator, discussed the messages from the media and her peers that promote sex. They talked about her feelings about being a virgin. "Being cool" wasn't the right choice for her. She decided to wait to have sex and left the HRC feeling good about herself and her decision.
At Edison High, Eddie visited the coordinator Jenny Brice several times and was particularly curious about HIV. Eventually, he confided that his mother died of AIDS, and his family takes him to get tested every year "just to be sure."
Although he'd always tested negative, he was sure one day the test would be positive. It turned out that Eddie falsely believed that because his mother died of AIDS, it would simply "pop up" in his system one day.
JENNY HELPED clear up some of his misconceptions about the disease. Eddie never shared his fears about HIV until he visited the HRC. He felt like a big weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
Besides answering questions, we offer activities at the HRC that help students build their skills. At West Philadelphia, coordinator Lindsey Krenzel implemented the "Condom Challenge." She began offering incentives like candy for the students to demonstrate, on a wooden model, how to put on a condom.
The "Challenge" provides her with an opportunity to make sure students are using condoms properly. Many students say that condoms break easily or they aren't big enough. Lindsey has students fill a condom with marbles to show how strong and elastic they are. (The current record is 279 marbles.)
Every day, we see how much teens need reliable information about sexual health. Our students are interesting, funny and full of potential. Sometimes our work can be challenging, but it's always rewarding.
When students stop by to tell us they're making good choices, it makes our day.
The HRC Program will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our students. We look forward to the day when we have enough resources to reach all Philadelphia high-school students. *