Some high school students cannot read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible without giggling over Tituba’s name. Female students are not allowed to carry purses at school and are told to “be discreet” when handling feminine hygiene products when “it’s that time of the month.” Other students still believe the myth that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide.
Knox County student Madeline Lonas carries strips of condoms in her backpack. She has a sticker of a condom on her iPad that commands, “Just use it.”
Lonas is a Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee FYI Peer Educator with over 100 hours of human sexuality education training. Each semester her goal is to have at least 40 sexual health conversations with other students.
She says, “I was the first freshman to get accepted into the peer education program. My first year, I started at a new school and only knew five people. I was the only one at my school doing this. I was kind of shy about it. When I started helping out more at Planned Parenthood, I met other peers who want to stick up for women, gays, and minorities. I felt like I was at home. I felt like this was what I should be doing. I don’t take the teasing personally.”
IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN SEX
Lonas says, “Teens are not learning about health services available to them. Planned Parenthood created this program because peers seek sexuality information from other peers.” Even though Planned Parenthood is no longer allowed in Knox County Schools, having teen peer educators in the school system is not against policy.” [Amanda Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist with Knox County Schools refused to be interviewed for this article. -Editor]
Once a week the peer educators meet at Planned Parenthood to exchange ideas about communicating with other students. Lonas says, “Some peer educators are bold and will walk up to someone and recite a statistic. Others use social media to spark questions and to share information. The condom sticker on my iPad is meant to be a conversation starter. My P.E. teacher asked, ‘Why do you have that sticker? Do you really want to be conveying that message?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
These weekly meetings are also an opportunity to learn more about relationships from Planned Parenthood staff and special guest speakers. In addition to training about preventing sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of birth control, the teens also learn about topics like diversity, bullying, homosexuality, domestic violence, mental illness, and eating disorders.
Lonas’ training dovetails nicely this year as she begins training and volunteering with the Knox County Health Department’s Youth Health Board. This program provides instruction about a wide variety of health issues including tobacco use, fitness, nutrition, and teen pregnancy prevention.
Recently, Lonas was awarded her second Colonial Aid de Camp certificate from the Tennessee Governor’s office for her Outstanding Achievement in Community Service.
Lonas has also participated in Slutwalk Knoxville (with pink sign in cover photo), the Martin Luther King, Jr., parade, the 2014 Pridefest parade, and other protests and events relating to education, health, and political issues.
Slutwalk Knoxville annual event returns on Friday, October 3, 2014, at 5:30 pm in the Krutch Park extension. The event draws attention to sexual assault victim shaming, domestic violence, and political action involving women’s reproductive health.
Find additional sex education information at Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee and Knox County Health Department’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
© Debra Dylan, 2014.