Bringing awareness to HIV

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By Julia Wojtkowski, Staff Writer

Townsend Harris High School recently hosted its annual HIV/AIDS day to educate students about sexually transmitted diseases and raise awareness about a growing problem that impacts our society.

HIV is a virus that targets and alters the immune system, increasing the risk and impact of other infections and diseases. HIV is transmitted through contact with the blood, semen, or breast milk of a person infected with HIV. Without proper treatment, the HIV might progress to an advanced disease stage called AIDS. On December 3, guest speakers, peer educators, and teachers informed students on how they can protect themselves from acquiring the virus.

According to health/physical education teacher and HIV/AIDS Peer Education Team Leader Maria Assante, the NYC Department of Education has mandated annual HIV/AIDS education since 1987. This program was implemented in response to the growing epidemic that plagues major cities in the US, as well as the world.

This year, students gathered for an assembly where guest speakers informed students about various statistics and dismissed common myths about HIV/AIDS.  This year’s speakers, who were teachers of health at L.I.C. Hospital, discussed their personal journey of working with patients who have the virus. From there, 63 peer educators were scheduled to present the mandated lessons in 54 classes throughout the day. These students have received training at North Shore hospital and are “given their lessons ahead of time which included facts, statistics, activities, DVD scenarios, and role plays, related to the virus, ” Ms. Assante explained. After every presentation, the peer educators give the students an opportunity to sign-up to be a peer educator for next year.

“I will definitely be doing this event next year [as I was able to] meet people around my age while educating my peers about a topic that affects us and everyone should really know about,” stated sophomore and peer educator Jerin Tasnim.

Despite it being a heavy topic, Ms. Assante said, “I believe our students make the material approachable and relatable and as enjoyable as possible.  I couldn’t be prouder of my peer team and respect their dedication and professionalism each year.”

THHS World AIDS Day is a day when “everyone is engaged in an issue that affects the world, a generational issue,” explained biology teacher and Coordinator of Student Activities Sarah Loew. “We are bringing awareness to young people by engaging them in the conversation, presenting them with accurate and reliable information.”