National Health Foundation (NHF) has been providing teen pregnancy prevention programs through a partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District to under-resourced, diverse young men and women in South Los Angeles high schools for the past eight years. In working with these high-risk populations, NHF has gained an understanding of the target population and has first-hand experience of the need for innovative, youth-directed programming. Through Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) programs, NHF is currently working in some of these same high schools to improve their community’s access to healthy food and safe, outdoor space.
With the success found in other NHF YPAR programs such as Health Academy or BUILD, the YPAR method has now been added to the Be a STAR teen pregnancy prevention curriculum, for both young men and women. With the added YPAR component to the curriculum, teens are empowered to define a teen pregnancy prevention problem in their community, determine a solution by gathering data from their peers, and then implement that solution. Additionally, this new YPAR component can build teens’ capacity to share their expertise and take leadership in overcoming their own problems, with support from adult allies.
Viviana Flores and Alfonso Vasquez are two participating students of the current Be a STAR teen pregnancy prevention program at Thomas Jefferson High School. Viviana, a senior, has expressed that while she was aware of birth control, she has learned a lot more about contraception for men and women. She says, “The most important topic we talked about was different types of abusive relationships that have physically and mentally hurt people.” Although it is promoted as a teen pregnancy prevention program, Be a STAR also focuses issues other than sexual education such as healthy relationships, communication, and learning how to set and achieve goals.
Alfonso, a freshman, is beginning to understand the importance of the education provided through Be a STAR. “This program will help me later in life because I’ll know the different ways of avoiding pregnancy and I’ve learned how to prevent getting any infections…I also learned that you can access health services in school.” Informing students in the program about how and where to acquire health services has also been a focus of Be a STAR. Unfortunately, not all students are aware of the health services provided. By informing and educating students, we are able to help prevent teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Different than the traditional pregnancy prevention program, Be a STAR incorporates a YPAR component which empowers the youth to make a change within their school and/or their community. The Be a STAR program holds a supportive environment where youth are strongly encouraged to feel open and express themselves in a manner that is usually not offered to them. By having an integration of education and youth-led projects we are developing professional skills, but most importantly, we are developing healthier and empowered individuals.
Hector Ramirez contributed to this post.