Edward Milne Community School, Belmont and Royal Bay 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 centers 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.
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 coordinator 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, adding the clinics have been a great way to connect with youth and allowing them to express their health concerns freely.
Harrison pointed out the idea started from a 2013 McCreary Centre report showing 73 per cent of youth went to a friend first when they needed help. Problem is, the peer-to-peer advice among youth isn’t always accurate, or even helpful.
It’s not to turn youth away from seeking help from adults or professionals either, Harrison highlighted, 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 prop up student sex-ed ambassadors in their training. Specialists include those on gender diversity organization, intimacy and pleasure, as well as a nurse and registered councillor presenting on interpersonal communication.
Training topics, which were chosen by the students themselves, included gender identity, orientation, pleasure, consent, dating, healthy relationships, 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,” Gibson said.
First training session will be on Feb. 23, at Belmont, followed by Feb. 24 at EMCS, and on March 4 there will be a special follow-up session further discussing the program.