"AIDS can't happen to me" is not something that you will be hearing from most seventh grade students at Floyd Dryden Middle School. Earlier this year, the Wolf and Voyager teams, taught by Angela Lunda, Diana Saiz, Mary Capobianco and Sarah Kinneen, invited more than 40 high school students into their classrooms to teach their students about the realities of HIV and about the benefits of abstaining from sexual involvement. The students in these two teams received a month-long HIV education unit, taught by both JDHS peer educators and by middle school teachers.
A highlight to the unit was Solee Butler, an HIV-positive speaker who came to Juneau from New Jersey. After hearing Butler's personal experiences, middle school students understood fully that HIV can happen to anyone. Butler emphasized that the best way for young people to protect themselves in life is to love and respect themselves.
The Juneau Douglas High School's Health Department greatly thanks Juneau Emergency Medical Associates, Kenicott Green Creeks Mining, Jenny Dawson of the Kent Dawson Company, Sandy Perry-Provost, Ernesta Ballard, Charlie Boddy, John Walsh, and Wendy Mulder. Their financial contributions enabled Solee Butler to travel to Juneau and share her important experience with our middle school students.
HIV peer educators were trained by Eileen Wilson, the Jesuit Volunteer for Shanti and by health teachers and volunteers at Juneau-Douglas High School. The unit began with three kick-off lessons in which the peer educators discussed media pressures, acted out skits, and explored current student fears. Ten peer educators followed the kickoff lessons by teaching five sessions of Postponing Sexual Involvement (PSI). The PSI lessons were followed by two days of refusal skill-building lessons. In these lessons, the HIV peer educators taught the students how to recognize risky situations and how to "say no and keep your friends."
Many of the current HIV peer educators were once the seventh-grade students who were taught this material. They will remember the words of Solee Butler: "Self-love is the best protection."
Leslie Kupper is a Jesuit volunteer in Juneau.