Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
From left, Emily Alvarado, Samuel Valenzuela, Christine Jamlig, Antonette Bracks and Cameron Matthews all perform in Kaiser Permanente's sex education ‘Secrets' play.
Demystifying sex ed is the mission of a performance put on by health care provider Kaiser Permanente, part of a bigger effort by school districts like the Sequoia Union High School District to better educate teens on safe sex and abstinence.
“Secrets” is performed for groups of 200 or more and works to dispel myths about human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and sexually transmitted infections, including the fact it only takes a cotton swab sample of saliva to test for HIV antibodies. Students at Menlo-Atherton High School had a chance to see the performance Monday.
“It’s engaging and students remember it,” said Menlo-Atherton Principal Matthew Zito. “It’s not by middle-aged teachers, it’s by young people approximately the same age or generation. … All the initiatives together can really reinforce the message of safe sex or perhaps even delaying sex and focusing on what we want them to focus on, academics.”
The play is consistently updated to stay current with pop culture, he added. The fact that the actors look and talk like the students helps the high schoolers relate, said Hannah Cordero, head of educational theater programs for Kaiser. The story follows high schooler Eddie, who realizes that a past experience has put him at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Students are shown at school, partying with red cups, visiting and calling doctors. Current music is played in the background of some scenes. It also deals with communicating health concerns with peers.
In addition to the play, schools like Menlo-Atherton offer two weeks of the Teen Talk sexual education program to ninth-graders, which also works to better educate students on their sexual health. The district’s programming is aimed to give students exposure in a way that’s contemporary, interactive and entertaining, Zito said.
“It’s a more progressive and explicit sex ed program,” Zito said. “It’s kind of a different world. There’s a more fluid sense of gender roles and identities. The 1950s truly are over.”
Zito said the school is working with the county to offer better quality reproductive services on site since students are reluctant to use them within the community.
“There’s a real lack of information and access to reproductive health services, especially for students from East Palo Alto,” he said. “We do have students who are sexually active at 14 or 15 and need to get them information as quickly as possible. What happens in middle school is different than 30 years ago. Sex activities that aren’t quite intercourse are happening at ages they didn’t before — in the seventh- and eighth-grades.”
Although pregnancy rates are down countywide, sexually transmitted infection rates are up, said Karen Li, wellness coordinator for the school district. This is particularly true for the southern part of the county, Zito said.
The highest rates of HIV cases are seen in zip codes pertaining to the northern part of San Mateo County, San Mateo, Redwood City and East Palo Alto in 2012. In the county, there were 1,782 cases of chlamydia trachomatis, gonorrhea rates increased for men and women during the year and there were 510 cases of chronic hepatitis B virus and 403 cases of chronic hepatitis C virus reported, according to a 2012 annual county report.
Abi Karlin-Resnick, executive director of Teen Talk, said consistency is important for sex ed, making sure throughout adolescence kids are getting the same message multiple times, in different formats from different people.
A performance of “Secrets” took place at the school Monday and will also be at Carlmont High School May 8. The play was put on for students at Woodside High School the week of Jan. 20. The district is still scheduling a performance for Sequoia High School.
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