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HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

Students Tailor Preconception Message to Younger Crowd

The enthusiasm for April and preconception health was brought to the high school level as peer educators from Morgan State University tailored health information for more than 100 students attending an April 3 rally to kick off Minority Health Awareness Month.

By Fia Curley

The enthusiasm for April and preconception health was brought to the high school level as peer educators from Morgan State University tailored health information for more than 100 students attending an April 3 rally to kick off Minority Health Awareness Month.

As part of the Office of Minority Health's Healthy Baby Campaign, student peer educators from five universities are tasked with spreading information and training their peers in the information of preconception health, or a person's health before a child is conceived, through the Peer-to-Peer Education Pilot Program.

Tonya Lee talks to Baltimore students about the realities of parenting during an April 3 rally.
Photo Credit: Dr Ajao Wale
"It's really surprising to me," said Shobana Gopalswamy, one of 30 recently-trained peer educators who taught a health class to high school students, "a lot of basic anatomy is missing, which leads to rising pregnancy rates. You really need to bring it home, in terms of the process of fertilization."

Gopalswamy, 25, said she would not be knowledgeable about the body if she had not majored in biology during undergrad.

"I think more emphasis should be on ‘this is something that impacts your life' instead of this is something that effects their grade," she said.

The rally, It Takes a Village to Raise Awareness, adapted the information for a younger crowd and served as an opportunity to reach community members Morgan educators hope to partner with in the future.

"I wanted to basically give the information out and get the students enthused and make sure they went home with two or three take-home messages," said Maaden Eshete, a Morgan graduate student and peer educator. "We want students to be change-agents themselves. We want them to be inspired, to go to college and realize how powerful they are."

Students received a midday onslaught of facts about the reality of pregnancy, infant mortality, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), agencies in the community, the impact of pregnancy on their lives and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, peppered with entertainment from the teens and lunch in an auditorium often filled with pubescent shrieks and teenage bravado.

"I didn't know there was such a thing as SIDS-I didn't know anything about that," said Phillip Johnson, a student at Baltimore Talent Development High School, who said he had heard the term preconception but his knowledge of SIDS, or the unexplained death of a baby before one year of age, was lacking.

"I didn't actually know that it is unsafe for a baby to sleep on its side or back, because my grandma has her grandbabies sleep with all their quilts," said Johnson, 15.

Jeffrey Knox, 15, also from Baltimore Talent, didn't know about preconception and was also unaware of SIDS.

"When I came here I didn't know that it was bad for the baby to sleep on its side," he said. "My cousins sleep with the baby and now that I know, I'll spread the word."

It is this age group that Eshete believes needs to hear the preconception message.

"I know PPE targets college-age but middle school and high school is a good time to start and then reinforce it in middle school and high school," she said. "The earlier you start, the more it sinks in. You have to be persistent. I believe we can make preconception health the new no smoking campaign."

Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? E-mail:

Rallying Cries!

"Health is a major issue, kids being healthy and how their health will help them achieve academically. I knew this was going to be important, because if you just get them here, they'll go back and talk about [the information]."
C. Lynette Lundy, community school coordinator for Harlem Park Campus, who coordinated the effort to get the students to the rally

"I think it's so unfortunate that we think just because people live in poverty that they're impoverished mentally. Young people are resourceful. They will look to anyone who will help them overcome."
Dr. Yvonne Bronner, PPE Program adviser

"I learned today that there's more than one way to protect yourself. This is teaching you to protect yourself even if you're not thinking of having sex or having a baby. It teaches you what you need to know."
Marcia Gentry, Baltimore Talent Development High School student

"Having a baby is a really big deal."
Tonya Lewis-Lee, Campaign Spokeswoman, TV Producer, Author

Content Last Modified: 4/8/2009 11:44:00 AM
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