Belmont and Royal Bay secondaries and Edward Milne Community School in Sooke are ramping up their sexual education program, only this time, students are the teachers – in a manner of speaking.
A total of 30 students, known as sexual health ambassadors, will be part of a pilot program which encompasses wellness centres and youth health committees at all three high schools. The program was created between Island Sexual Health, Sooke School District and the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative.
The goal is to supply youth with the knowledge and resources to not only have a better understanding of sexual health for themselves, but for their peers as well, said wellness clinic co-ordinator Jen Harrison.
“Whether we know it or like it or not, they’re talking about this stuff, so it’s important we give them the language and help them get the skills they need to make safe, mutually-respectful decisions,” she said.
Harrison added that the clinics have been a great way to connect with youth and allow them to express their health concerns freely.
The idea started from a 2013 McCreary Centre report showing 73 per cent of youth went to a friend first when they needed help. The problem is, the peer-to-peer advice among youth isn’t always accurate, or even helpful.
The new program is not designed to turn youth away from seeking help from adults or professionals, Harrison said, but to encourage it in a way where the students will build enough confidence to do it themselves.
“We’re not getting youth to go to their friends for advice per se, but if it’s happening, we need to equip their friends with accurate information,” she said. “What we’re learning in the clinics, is that a lot of them do not have accurate information … it can be dangerous and can create an unsafe situation, so we need to do better than that.”
Both Harrison and Jennifer Gibson, a sexual health educator with Island Sexual Health, reached out to several different organizations and individuals to bolster the training of the student sex-ed ambassadors. The specialists were experts in such areas as gender diversity and intimacy and pleasure, while a local nurse and registered councillor did a presentation on interpersonal communication.
Training topics chosen by the students themselves included gender identity, orientation, pleasure, consent, dating, healthy relationships, and basic sexual health such as contraception, STDs and prevention.
In the long run, the goal is to help youth help themselves, even beyond high school, said Gibson, who is helping Harrison steer the new program.
“It’s not just to build their knowledge, but build capacity and connections to the surrounding community in order to resource them beyond this training,” Gibson said, adding she’s hopeful the program will take off.
“With this, we’re trying to take away the structure of adults telling youth what they need, and giving them the opportunity to tell us what they need and how we can support them in using this knowledge to promote health.”
Initial training sessions happened Feb. 23 at Belmont and Feb. 24 at EMCS, and this Saturday (March 4) a special follow-up session will be held to further discuss the program.