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At South Eugene, peer educators tackle the tough health issues ASAP.

Byline: Allison Kratka 20Below Team

"Oh, on weekends I usually go out with the guys to the football game. But if you prepared something for me when I got home, I'd totally be in."

"Wait here a second. I'm going to grab something to drink! ... Here, I got you a beer, too."

"Come on, let's just do it. It's not like you're going to get pregnant."

AIDS. Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Relationships. These issues aren't discussed openly enough growing up in our culture.

In school, these taboo subjects often are glossed over in health class, usually from an older teacher with whom students have nothing in common. At home, the topics seem to be barely discussed at all.

But my high school, South Eugene, has taken a different approach to sex and drugs education. It's called ASAP.

ASAP is a curriculum for HIV-AIDS and Substance Abuse Prevention. Unlike other health curriculums, ASAP is a peer education program. Instead of a teacher delivering this information to students, students teach students.

Sophomores hear carefully formulated programs of information from upperclassmen. It's taught one period a day for a week, during American Studies or in Values and Beliefs at the International High School.

To some, it may sound insane to hand over part of their child's health education to a bunch of teenagers. But this wouldn't happen if ASAP didn't work.

ASAP presents realistic situations students may find themselves in regarding relationships, drugs and alcohol. It teaches them how to deal safely with these circumstances. One of the core beliefs on which ASAP is founded is that we can prevent some students from drinking and having sex. It's unrealistic to think that everyone will avoid these situations. But ASAP teaches teens how to prevent themselves from getting into bad situations, and if they do, how to deal with them.

My ASAP experience started sophomore year, when I went through the course. I found the advice useful, so this year I became a leader.

We had 10 hours of training to prepare us to be teachers. The program is based on group performance and interaction rather than on a traditional didactic approach.

During training, the core leaders demonstrated how to perform skits and present information. Afterward, we were put into small groups (about six or seven people) and given a month to practice before presentation time.

There were all different types of skits, from those about sex and protection to others about drinking and drugs. One example includes two friends - one wants the other to drink even though it wouldn't be a good decision.

"Wait here a second. I'm going to grab something to drink! ... Here, I got you a beer, too."

"Oh - ah, no thanks. I don't really; I mean I can't drink 'cause I'm in track now."

"No one is going to tell the coach."

"No really. I'm an annoying drunk anyway. And my parents would know. ... I just don't really want to?."

In order to keep the students' attention, we made the skits comical while still staying informative.

So why is ASAP important?

Alcohol is the No. 1 drug of choice for U.S. teenagers. Almost 80 percent of high school students have tried alcohol, and 3 million American teenagers are alcoholics.

Also, the teen pregnancy rate in the United States is much higher than Europe's, but the teen sex rate is the same. That means American teens aren't being educated enough about being safe. Sex is a tabooed subject in today's culture, and many parents and children don't talk about it.

ASAP is the right approach. Although it could be considered risky to have students educating students, teens listen to other teens. Sophomores are more likely to listen to seniors who may already have been in these types of situations than they are to listen to a teacher.

ASAP isn't the only source of guidance for students however. Students still take health class, but it's crucial to have real-life information.

So, I hope that when one of them is faced with a decision about sex, drugs or alcohol, they'll remember what they learned in ASAP.

Allison Kratka is a junior at South Eugene High. To comment on the column or see Allison's slideshow, go to rgweb.registerguard.com/20below.
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Title Annotation:20Below Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 3, 2008
Words:708
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