Recently, 600 peer health educators from 26 Miami-Dade Schools gathered to share stories about their experience teaching health information to ninth grade students in their schools. They also shared information on what they are seeing on their campuses and what kids are asking about.
The students are all peer educators for the Health Information Project (HIP) founded by Risa Berrin.
Berrin said the traditional ways of teaching health weren’t effective for a variety of reasons ranging from outdated textbooks, scare tactics and having adults teaching about health and sex education.
“In 2008, Miami-Dade County Public Schools stopped offering health education classes because it was no longer a requirement to graduate high school in the State of Florida,” Berrin said. “I seized that opportunity to transform the old, ineffective model into one that was more innovative and effective. I actually had started to come up with the program even before Tallahassee eliminated the need for graduation.”
Berrin created HIP with the idea that kids are more likely to respond to the health messages if they are taught by fellow students.
“At HIP, we use the power of peer pressure for good,” she said.
Right now, the goal is to grow the program to all public high schools in Miami- Dade County and then grow outside the county when the time is right.
“We’re not at that point yet. This will be a national model. We have plans for that,” she said. “As long as there are students there is no reason the HIP program cannot be easily implemented.”
The program is student run. HIP officials create the curriculum and it’s given to the faculty sponsors and the student president of the club. The students go back and implement the program.
“We created it like a club,” Berrin said. “It has a faculty sponsor and it is student run. We train the student president as well.”
The students who are peer educators are trained in public speaking, classroom management and curriculum knowledge. They take quizzes so be sure they know the curriculum.
Berrin said the program receives funding from a variety of sources, including grants from community foundations, family foundations, private individuals, health foundations and university partnerships.
They are able to secure the funding because they have measureable data that the program is making a quantitative and qualitative impact.
Before HIP, students had no idea where to go to access health resources and no one in which they could confide. But with HIP, they get information from their fellow students who are trained to answer their questions and who guide them to the website for additional resources.
“They can Google and get a lot of bad information but we’ve mapped out the places they can go,” Berrin said. “They can go to the HIP website and we’ve mapped out all the resources.”
Best of all, the targeted ninth graders go back home and teach their parents about health issues.
Palmetto High student Alexandra Hazday said she benefited from the program as a freshman and she joined the HIP club as a junior.
This past summer she began interning in the HIP office. She believes the program is very helpful.
“Even if you have a class that is unruly and doesn’t pay attention, there is always that one student that comes to you after the class and thanks you or asks questions,” she said. “It’s definitely given me a lot more information.”