One School Shows Prevention Requires More Than a Health Class

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Inside the Arts and Technology Academy in Northeast Washington, you'll find an antidote to the spread of HIV and AIDS, along with ways to reduce teen pregnancy, curb substance abuse and quell violence. While students at the public charter elementary are learning basic skills, they are also being inoculated with heavy doses of self-respect, integrity, discipline, responsibility and teamwork.

That's where you'll find the cure.

This holistic approach to education is known as the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, which was developed in 1984 by Michael Carrera of the New York-based Children's Aid Society. Clearly, there is more to it than the name implies, and it might well be the gold standard for sex education in public schools.

About 73 fifth-graders -- students ages 10 to 12 -- are enrolled in the Carrera program at the academy. They attend school from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week and attend on Saturday twice each month.

They study art and music, and learn how to open a savings account, budget money and draw up business plans. They are mentored and tutored and receive lessons in sports they can enjoy for a lifetime, such as golf, swimming and squash. They also receive medical care, including visits to dentists, mental health professionals and even dermatologists when needed.

And they take courses in family life and sexual education. The courses are age-appropriate and involve parents who also take classes on how to talk to their children about sensitive issues.

It's a far cry from the traditional approach: the old health class with a gym teacher's lecture on safe sex or abstinence.

"We teach the importance of having choices and caring about outcomes," said Errick L. Greene, who heads the academy and, with help from the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., began using the Carrera model this year. Located in one of the District's tougher neighborhoods, the school draws from households where futures can appear bleak and role models on the streets leave much to be desired.

"We address risky behaviors by helping students understand who they are and what they can be," Greene said. "We see our kids as being 'at promise,' not 'at-risk.' "

The Arts and Technology Academy is the only school in the District to have such a comprehensive approach to sex education. Even as the city struggles with one of the nation's highest rates of AIDS infection -- a near-epidemic among African American women and children -- the response of D.C. public schools has been sluggish at best.

In a report card on HIV and AIDS prevention to be released today, the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice gives District schools a D for doing too little. "In the midst of this crisis, students should be getting information in school that will help prevent infection for the rest of their lives," the report says.

The Carrera program is "not just about stopping kids from going out having sex," Greene said. "It's about helping them establish a vision of themselves and seeing themselves in the future. We want them to place a high value on their bodies, on the beauty of their minds, and learn what it takes to protect both."

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