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San Diego Schools Take the Lead in AIDS Information for Students

December 25, 1991|DAVID SMOLLAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many San Diego-area students already are learning the basics of AIDS prevention, with their school districts ahead of a new state law requiring all secondary students to receive basic AIDS education beginning next fall.

In San Diego Unified, the nation's eighth-largest urban system, all students from grades six through 12 now receive at least one hour of AIDS education a year. Seniors at selected high schools this fall have received a series of 15 special lessons to teach them specific ways of resisting peer pressure that could put them into situations that would negate the AIDS education they have had.

In addition, the district has begun a program for first-graders and will introduce lessons for third-graders next fall. And, in some schools with heavy concentrations of Latino students, the district is sponsoring AIDS education programs for parents as well.

The 42 smaller school districts around San Diego County also are gearing up to make sure they meet the new state requirement, using information and training programs provided by the San Diego County Office of Education. That office houses one of the state's regional Healthy Kids Center, which offers help to teachers, parents and trustees in individual districts.

The direction of AIDS prevention education has changed the past three or fours years to go beyond simply the training of teachers, Justin Cunningham, the Healthy Kids Center director, said.

"We were having teachers coming back to us and saying they could not implement what we had taught because their board of trustees did not have an overall AIDS policy or a parent advisory group," Cunningham said.

Now the county office holds workshops for administrators and teams of teachers, trustees and parents from a given district so they will understand what the state requirements are, and learn what the curriculum includes regarding the nature of the AIDS virus, the methods of transmission, and how to eliminate or minimize risk.

"The No. 1 thing we stress is abstinence from sex and drug use, but we also talk about the success and failure rate of condoms, and methods of risk reduction in cleaning needles," Cunningham said.

The new state law requires that abstinence be taught as the only foolproof method of avoiding infection, but it also mandates that students be told about condoms and other methods that reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk. There are no programs in either San Diego Unified or at county schools to provide condoms to students.

"I don't see any district within the county that is in a state of denial, that says we don't have to deal with the issue at all," Cunningham said. "There is in some cases a healthy conflict in talking about how to carry out the mandated instruction, in terms of abstinence versus teaching about condoms and their risk reduction but failure rate as well.

"We're trying to get a comprehensive approach here."

San Diego Unified, with 124,000 students, has had a continuing AIDS education program for more than two years and receives special federal funding from the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, in addition to state money.

All students in grades six through 12 receive at least an hour of AIDS education a year, Jack Campana, full-time AIDS education coordinator for the district, said. The classes are taught by district social concerns teachers trained to cover the issue's entire spectrum.

"We also have, at half of our high schools, students trained as peer counselors, who at lunch time can set up a table with information and questionnaires to try and get even more education out to their fellow students," Campana said.

In addition, the district has an experimental, concentrated program for seniors at several high schools this year--15 lessons in 15 days--that works on skills "to make them less at risk, to show them control skills" that might result in fewer risk situations.

"For example, we've practiced having one student ask a second to come over to his house right after school, and the first student asking why, what are we going to do, who else is going to be there, do your parents know I am coming over, things like that, to find out if you are going to be entering a problem situation," Campana said.

Campana said that, no matter the amount of AIDS education, "There are still a lot of problems, especially as long as you have young adults abusing alcohol. All the knowledge of how to prevent AIDS can go out the window when they're inebriated."

Yet he finds himself more encouraged this year than in the past about the positive effects of the program.

"For the first time, I think that students are taking the issue more seriously, and we don't have the snickers and questions from way out of left field as we did before," Campana said. "In the past two years, the amount of media coverage and the number of people who have been diagnosed--together they've resulted in the sense of vulnerability beginning to hit these kids."

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