Evelyn, a Brooklyn Center High School junior, was intrigued when she heard about her school’s Expect Respect Internship.
The paid internship enables students to act as educators, teaching their peers about sexual health topics. It also challenges them to identify health issues they can improve in their school district, like classroom curricula and LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
“The internship fit in with what I believed in: trying to inform people and to help the school,” Evelyn says.
She applied, was accepted, and was soon working with other interns to affect change.
Brooklyn Center High School’s Expect Respect Internship enables students to act as educators, teaching their peers about sexual health topics. It also challenges them to identify health issues they can improve in their school district, like classroom curricula and LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
Not long after joining Expect Respect, Evelyn and her peers identified the need for more relatable, responsive, and effective sexual health curricula.
Although the teens felt that Brooklyn Center High School’s sexual health curricula was effective, they agreed that the sexual health education they received in middle school was lacking.
Evelyn noted that, in her experience, the curriculum she received in middle school glossed over topics like consent, healthy relationships, and LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and that the only thing it seemed to stress was preventing pregnancy.
The teens decided to pitch comprehensive sexual health education for middle school students to the school district’s continuous improvement coordinator.
Impressed by their research and enthusiasm, the coordinator invited the students to present to the district’s health curriculum adoption committee.
Three local organizations came together to make Expect Respect possible.
The Annex Teen Clinic, a nonprofit that provides sexual health education and clinical services to young people in northwest Hennepin County, founded Expect Respect to address the lack of teen voices in sexual health programming.
In 2017, Better Together Hennepin (BTH), Hennepin County’s teen pregnancy prevention initiative, worked with Expect Respect and three other high school youth groups to expand their roles and become Youth Leadership Councils (YLCs). The purpose of YLCs is to mobilize community around teen pregnancy prevention and sexual health.
Youthprise, a nonprofit that supports youth-centered organizations and systems, helped launch the YLCs with youth-friendly design retreats and funding.
Together, the organizations have created opportunities that promote youth voices and peer-to-peer education. These opportunities are also teaching teens, like Evelyn, important job skills like public speaking.
When Evelyn arrived at the district’s health curriculum adoption committee meeting in February 2018, she was nervous. “All the interns were standing in a little circle and we were intimidated because the committee members were older than us,” she says.
When it was their turn to present, none of her peers spoke up, so Evelyn took the lead. Once she started talking, she found that her belief in what she was saying tempered her anxiety.
After Expect Respect presented to the district’s health curriculum adoption committee, district officials committed to expanding an evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention curriculum to middle schools. They're also planning to provide school district personnel with training on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in classrooms.
All of this work will be accomplished through a partnership between Brooklyn Center Schools and the Annex Teen Clinic with young peoples’ voices leading the way.
Expect Respect continues to create meaningful change in Brooklyn Center schools. In 2018, for example, members petitioned the high school to create gender inclusive bathrooms. The school district agreed, and bathrooms were added to building renovations currently taking place.
Better Together Hennepin’s federal funding is expected to end in 2020. With that reduction, the teen leadership will be more critical than ever. Hennepin County, Youthprise, Annex Teen Clinic, and the Brooklyn Center school district will look to these teens for ways to most effectively use their limited resources to prevent teen pregnancy and promote sexual health.
“It’s really important to listen to young people,” says Annex YLC coordinator Harmony Slabchuck. “This is their life. They are the future generation! We are just here to guide and facilitate. We ask questions to help youth figure it out themselves. They have the solutions.”