IN this sundrenched suburb across the Golden Gate Bridge from San
Francisco, high school students are finding that teaching each other
about AIDS helps them learn in a way that classroom information
At Redwood High School, students in the school's Ensemble Theatre
Company, along with an adult playwright, produced an improvisational
play about AIDS called "Touch Me."
"There are enough plays that blurt out statistics," says senior
"The point of it was to make (classmates) deal with their
feelings," says Gordon Brownlie, a junior.
As education about AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)
becomes increasingly common in United States classrooms, some sex
education experts say that the most effective methods are those
which, like this play, encourage young people to find their own ways
of coming to terms with the disease.
"Peers have great influence and can talk in a way that's open and
not preachy," says Tim Dunn, AIDS education coordinator for the
Massachusetts Department of Education.
Straight facts alone are not causing young people to change their
sexual behavior, sex education specialists say.
"AIDS education is being taught in assemblies in 1- to 2-hour
presentations," says Debra Haffner, executive director of the Sex
Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).
"We evaluate those programs and then wonder why that didn't get
kids to change their behavior. The assumption is that all you have
to do is tell kids about the dangers and they'll change."
Despite a decade of information about AIDS, and several years of
education in schools, fear of acquiring the disease has not stopped
students from engaging in unprotected sex. One indicator of that is
the rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among teens:
Syphilis cases are up 60 percent since 1985, says Joe Blount, a
spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control. And a 1988 study of
more than 8,000 California teenagers found that of the 50 percent
who had had intercourse, only 8.5 percent said they had stopped
because of AIDS.
While adolescents only represent 1 percent AIDS cases, and most
of those cases are attributed to tainted blood transfusions received
years ago, 20 percent of AIDS cases are people in their 20s. Some
health officials believe the youths contracted the virus in their
teens. Concern that teens may be the next highly affected group has
prompted 33 states to require AIDS education. …