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Teacher Puts Lots of Life Into a Deadly Subject

November 04, 1990|LEE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Huntington Park High School teacher Richard Loya has gained quite a reputation for his teaching techniques, especially his AIDS classes.

Loya has taught high school courses about acquired immune deficiency syndrome for many years. He also has taught AIDS classes in Guam and helped other teachers teach students about the disease.

Now, he is playing a central role in a film about the deadly virus.

A Washington television and film production company selected Loya and three other health instructors from other parts of the country to appear in a film on AIDS, after observing them and more than 20 other teachers from across the country in action in their classrooms.

"We found him to be dynamic and frank in getting the message out," said the production company producer, Roberta Hantgan.

The teachers are starring in "Saving a Generation," a videotape for students and teachers, which was produced by State of the Art Inc., a small media production company in Washington. The company received a $200,000 grant from eight public and private agencies, including Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta, to produce the video, which is being sold to school districts throughout the country.

The three other teachers are from Tennessee, Minnesota and Maryland and represent a cross-section of students of various ages and ethnic groups, Hantgan said. Huntington Park High is a year-round school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. About 90% of its 3,600 students are Latino.

In the film, Loya discusses how AIDS is killing thousands of people each year and will continue to do so. He tells students that the best way to prevent AIDS is to abstain from sex until marriage. But for those who do have sex, he discusses the use of condoms.

On the film, an AIDS patient also speaks before Loya's class on his personal battle with the disease.

Loya, 44, has taught health in high schools for 20 years. His wife, Linda, also 44, is a counselor at the school.

In an interview, Loya said he is factual and at the same time tries to be provocative to get the students' attention on health problems.

"Teaching is a performing art. Every day you are on stage. You have to get their attention," he said.

Loya does not allow students to bring their books to class, which gives them an incentive to come prepared for discussions and tests, because they don't want to be embarrassed.

Loya also believes in involving students in the subjects. He has had his students take trips in wheelchairs around the neighborhood to find out what it is like to be a paraplegic. To show the dangers of smoking, the teacher will have students smoke in class. He measures their blood pressure and heart rates before and after they smoke to show the dramatic increase in both pressure and heart rates.

"I've gotten more kids to quit this way," he said.

Parents must give permission in writing for their children to receive AIDS instruction and to participate in smoking tests, Loya said.

In 1987, he helped organize a conference on AIDS sponsored by the National Assn. of School Health Teachers in Long Beach to assist teachers in teaching about AIDS. He has taught AIDS education classes to parents, teachers and students at the University of Guam and has been invited to return next year.

The Long Beach native has received many awards during his teaching career. In 1975, he was named Outstanding High School Health Education Teacher by the California Assn. for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Board.

In 1987, his alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, presented him with a Distinguished Alumnus Award. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in health education from the university, where he also teaches health classes.

Neil Van Steenbergen, a social studies teacher at Jordan High School in Long Beach, is one of 36 teachers from around the country to be honored today on a two-hour Disney Channel program saluting educators. The program will be shown at 7 p.m.

One teacher will be selected Outstanding Teacher of 1990. More than $250,000 will be awarded, including $50,000 to be divided between the top teacher and his school.

Last month, Steenbergen was named Teacher of the Year by the Credential Counselors and Analysts of California, a statewide organization of college counselors. Steenbergen, who has taught in the Long Beach Unified School District for 35 years, was recently appointed to Long Beach's newly formed Human Relations Commission.

During his career, he has been credited with helping students with their studies as well as their problems. He has formed drug awareness programs and many student support groups.

He has a bachelor's degree in sociology from UCLA and a master's degree in religion from USC.

Ken Elisaldez, a part-time employee of the Pico Rivera Recreation and Community Services Department since 1980, has been promoted to the full-time position of recreation supervisor. Elisaldez, 29, is a senior at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He is majoring in public administration.

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