USC students teach health at schools

first_imgDuring their gym period, the ninth graders at Green Dot Animo South Los Angeles Charter High School are restless.  They want to talk to their friends and play basketball.Eventually, members of USC Peer Health Exchange manage to corral them and settle them in for a lesson on the importance of health education.As the high schools around Los Angeles are usually underfunded and understaffed, health classes are not a part of the core curriculum. Often, the lessons are the only exposure the students have to helpful and accurate information about health, and the only opportunity for them to ask questions in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.Armed with lessons and workshop materials, Peer Health Exchange visits high schools once or twice a week to teach students in their health classes. Peer Health Exchange was started in 1999 by a group of Yale University graduates and has since grown into a national nonprofit organization. Boasting chapters in major areas all over the United States, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, New York City, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, the organization matches local high schools with college students looking for experience in the health or education fields.Martha Wolnicki, a junior majoring in neuroscience, and Rachel Belzer, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, act as co-presidents of the USC branch, taking on administrative duties and evaluating the workshop materials to ensure they will run smoothly.“We have a series of 13 workshops where we talk about accessing resources, how to find health information and decision-making regarding sex, drugs and alcohol,” Belzer said. “We also do communication and advocacy, teaching these students how to stand for themselves, how to communicate and how to get information they need if it’s not readily available.”Wolnicki said the team offers services local students typically lack.“A lot of the time these students don’t really have accurate sources of information, so it’s important that we clarify their questions,” Wolnicki said. “They need to have proper information so they can make the right decisions for themselves and others.”The program offers a chance to experience work in the health education field, gives members a head start on their future professions and endows them with new skills.Kathleen Tor, a senior majoring in biological sciences, had no teaching experience prior to joining Peer Health Exchange but said she gained a lot out of the program.“I’ve discovered that I really enjoy teaching, breaking down information and passing it down to students,” Tor said. “For volunteers, PHE is an opportunity to follow their passion for health promotion while simultaneously giving back to the community.Christopher Lees, a senior majoring in human biology, said he wanted to extend his reach beyond the bubble of USC and connect with the wider L.A. community.“To be able to communicate with the younger demographic of Los Angeles is something I take a lot of pride in,” Lees said. “I’m planning to matriculate into medical school in the fall, and it’s given me a better range of what I can expect in the medical field because these are the next generation of people that are coming through. Empowering students to make their own healthy decisions is something I’m a really big proponent of, and this was one of the best programs for me to do that.”last_img

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