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Harnessing Integrated Health Education

How investing in youth and schools pays off for the community
  • Tweet This The more we invest in our youth, the more they will invest in us later on.
  • Tweet This Integrated health education combines sexual, mental, and physical health, possibly reducing rates of teen pregnancy.
  • Tweet This Hear @FYSBgov grantee Kevon Harris’s story on how her program invests in schools and community.

The more we invest in youth, the more they will invest in our communities later on. This is why it’s important to deliver sexual health and HIV education in an integrated way. According to Kevon Harris, health analyst with the Health Education Team at the Washington, DC, Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), integrated health education includes topics around all areas of healthy living, rather than only adolescent pregnancy prevention (APP).

We spoke with Harris about how her organization is tackling APP in her community as part of our Strength in Action podcast series. OSSE receives FYSB funding to work with schools, students, families, and community-based organizations to improve health education for youth in the District of Columbia. The organizations that OSSE works with (e.g., Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC, Inc., Children’s National Health System, and The Grassroot Project) are then able to provide appropriate, evidence-based health education in public schools, public charter schools, and housing developments. OSSE’s programs reach a diverse set of youth, including young men of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender (LGBTQ) youth, and parenting teens. OSSE rigorously screens health education curricula to make sure they address not only HIV and pregnancy prevention, but also substance abuse, mental health, and physical activity.

The Benefits of Holistic Health Education

Youth from vulnerable backgrounds can face challenges at home that affect them personally and academically. That’s where schools can have a unique influence in shaping youth’s lives in the classroom.

“Sex is just one part of life,” says Harris. “We have to think about the whole child. You cannot reach a child if they have so many other things going on with their personal life that it's hard for them to focus in on the academic perspective.”

By integrating sexual health education with overall health and life skills, Harris finds that experiences in school shape how youth respond to unhealthy situations later in life. For example, Harris suggests that a program covering healthy relationships and dating violence can help youth recognize the dangers of emotional abuse. Youth learn what healthy communication in a relationship is and what it is not, and how unhealthy communication can affect them mentally.

“Every program helps our young people look at what life could be like if you take preventative measures at such a young age,” she says.

Keys to Success

Although some employees struggle to overcome silos between organizations, Harris finds that she stays well connected to the community through OSSE’s efforts to build capacity in the community. OSSE has a coordinated health education team, in-house working groups, and a youth advisory committee. Through participation in these groups, OSSE staff let schools know that they can help them fulfill sexual health education requirements.

“We'll say, ‘Hey, we have DC PREP grantees that can come and help you do that,’ so that's a big collaboration success that has worked in the classroom for PREP,” says Harris.

Impact on the Community

What is the result? OSSE is building the next generation of young leaders that share with their peers the facts about sexual health and pregnancy prevention. “We have such a hope in what our youth can bring if we just continue to invest in them,” says Harris, with a smile.

Tune in! Hear directly from Kevon Harris. Listen to the podcast episode, Holistic Health Education, and discover how adulthood preparation can enhance your APP program—through the eyes of someone who lives it every day and experiences its benefits.

 

Page last updated: December 12, 2016
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