Last week, 7 other National Health Corps Chicago health educators and I got the chance to assist at a two-day student health event, focusing on sexually transmitted infection screening and education at Senn High School on the North Side of Chicago. The STI Blitz was hosted by Heartland Health Centers, the organization that provides health services at the school-based health center in Senn High School.
600 Senn students had the option to complete a confidential test for chlamydia and gonorrhea, and all 600 students, whether or not they chose to test for the infections, received sexual health education from the NHC Chicago health educators who volunteered. Each student also met confidentially with a provider from Heartland to discuss sexual health. If the student chose to take advantage of the screening, they would receive their results in 1-2 weeks.
This event aimed to provide free, convenient, and confidential sexual health services to high school students. This was a great opportunity for us as NHC Chicago health educators to be part of a major school-based sexual health initiative, as well as to improve our communication skills as health educators. Each of us got the chance to present sexual health education to classes ranging from 30-60 students, which included information on STIs as well as demonstrating how to use both internal and external condoms.
One of the most rewarding aspects for me was educating students in small groups or individually after they had tested. As a health educator, I spoke with the students about contraception, STIs, and answered any questions. I found that when the students were in small groups or were talking to us individually they often felt more comfortable asking questions, and responded positively to these conversations. Many students had questions that stemmed from myths or misconceptions that they may have heard in popular culture or from their peers, and it was rewarding to provide them with correct information and watch their “a-ha” moments when concepts began to make more sense.
These interactions were also a great learning experience for me, because by talking to students directly, I found myself able to get a better sense of their experiences with sexual health information, including what they already know and what kinds of information they would like to know more about. In the future, I can use this to better present information to high school students and to make the information more accessible to them.
At the end of two very long, hectic days, our team had provided sexual health education and the opportunity to test for STIs to around 600 high school students. The preparation was a lot of effort, but by the end, it felt extremely rewarding to have provided this service to the students of Senn High School.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2018-19 member Julia Smith.
Julia serves as a Health Educator at Heartland Health Centers - Kilmer/Sullivan.