College students teach health to their high school peers
Program serves those most susceptible to sickness, disease
The Peer Health Exchange was founded to address a growing crisis among teenagers. According to the organization, teenagers today are engaging in risky behavior at alarming rates, harming their bodies and their futures.
- One in four teenagers is a binge-drinker.
- One in four teenagers smokes cigarettes.
- One in three teen girls becomes pregnant.
- One in five teenagers experiences violence in a relationship.
- One in six teenagers is overweight or obese.
In recent years, public school budget cuts and staffing shortages have exacerbated this crisis by eliminating comprehensive health courses, leaving teenagers unprepared to protect themselves against these serious health risks. Teenagers who engage in risky behavior today are less likely to stay and excel in school, join and remain part of the work force, and become healthy adults capable of producing healthy families, according to research conducted by the Peer Exchange.
Peer Health Exchange works with high schools that lack health education and in which the majority of the students live at or below the poverty line. These students experience a disproportionate number of serious health risks, ranging from teenage pregnancy to obesity.
The PHE recruits, selects, and trains college student volunteers to teach high school students a comprehensive health curriculum consisting of 13 standardized health workshops on topics ranging from decision-making and sexual health to substance abuse and nutrition. Several studies demonstrate that teenagers better absorb health information when it is delivered by educators of a similar age as opposed to adult educators: 74 percent of PHE high school students said that having college students lead workshops helped them learn about the health topics.
As slightly older peers, PHE volunteers provide the benefits of peer education while also conveying the advantages of traditional instruction. They deliver health information to teenagers in a language and context that is relevant to their everyday experiences, yet they can also serve as role models, demonstrating healthy behaviors and the successful transition from high school to college.
In the classroom, PHE high school students articulate their values and goals; learn basic, accurate health information; explore attitudes and perceptions of peer norms and peer pressure; analyze the influence of culture and the media on health; discuss barriers to healthy behaviors and strategies to overcome them, and identify and learn how to use the health resources in their communities. PHE volunteers help high school students practice skills such as effective communication, risk evaluation and prevention, limit-setting, and decision-making in role-plays and scenarios that resemble difficult, real-life situations. By applying the skills they learn in PHE workshops outside of the classroom, PHE high school students can make informed decisions that will help them stay and excel in school, join and remain part of the work force, and become healthy adults capable of producing healthy families.
For many PHE volunteers, their experience in the classroom compels them to make a commitment to public service through their school work, jobs, volunteer work, or philanthropy.
More than 90 percent of past PHE volunteers said their experience with Peer Health Exchange affected their career, academic or volunteer plans. Many of these volunteers may go on to be teachers, doctors, public interest lawyers, and policy-makers who will continue to serve their communities throughout their lives.
PHE works with UCLA, USC, Cal State Northridge and Occidental College, and provides services to nearly 3,000 high school students in the Los Angeles area.
Contact PHE at (213) 687-5163.
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