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Connecting adolescent development education with under-served populations

Over the past five years, Girls Health Ed has built partnerships with close to 50 schools and community centers in Washington, D.C.; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; and Nairobi, Kenya. These schools and community centers are selected based on their demographics of the neighborhoods in which they are located and the populations they serve. Girls Health Ed aims to serve girls and young women from the most under-resourced, under-served communities where they would not otherwise have access to comprehensive health education, either in their home or their school environments. Schools and community centers learn about Girls Health Ed through referrals from educators, administrators, school counselors, community partners based on personal connections with Girls Health Ed staff or board members. All outreach, coordination and communication with school and community partners is managed by Girls Health Ed’s director of programs and national outreach.

Girls Health Ed participants

Girls between the ages of 8-17 opt in to participate in Girls Heath Ed’s programming and must have a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. Girls Health Ed’s holistic and comprehensive curriculum includes nutrition, physical activity, body image, personal care and hygiene and for girls 12 and older, this also includes reproductive health.

These curriculum modules were chosen because they cover major components of adolescent development and puberty, which have the potential to have a long lasting impact later in life. Girls Health Ed recognizes that true health and well-being comes from focusing equally on the many topics that arise during this critical time period in a girl’s life. Modules cover not only the physical aspects of health and well-being, but also the social and emotional aspects, such as healthy relationships and peer pressure.

The Girls Health Ed curriculum is rooted in scientific evidence that when girls are given accurate and comprehensive information about their changing bodies, they make better health-related decisions, which in turn translates into positive outcomes in other areas of their lives, including school attendance, academic performance and self-esteem.

Nutrition and personal care

The nutrition module covers the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations, food groups and health proportions. The physical activity module includes a discussion of BMI, different types of physical activity and recommendations for daily amount of physical activity. These modules introduce girls to the idea that healthy and fit is the "new pretty" and encourages them to appreciate their uniqueness and other non-physical traits.

The personal care and hygiene module includes skin care; physical, cognitive and emotional aspects of puberty; menstruation and menstruation management; and good hygiene habits. Finally, the reproductive health module, which is only presented to girls 12 and older, covers myths and facts around sexual health, female and male anatomy, contraception, making health and informed decisions about sex, STIs and yeast infection, consensual sex vs. rape/sexual assault, and dealing with both wanted and unwanted pregnancy. Each module also includes a toolkit of interactive activities to help the girls engage with the material being presented.

Workshops and teaching fellowships

Girls Health Ed workshops are generally delivered during the school year one-to-two times per week over a time period that ranges from two-to-eight weeks, where each session focuses on a different module. The workshops are facilitated by volunteer teaching fellows with a background in public health, education and/or youth development. Teaching fellows are screened, interviewed, trained and supervised by Girls Health Ed’s director of programs national outreach.

In addition to the curriculum training, teaching fellows must also complete a mandated reporter training as well as any background checks required by the workshop site. After each workshop, teaching fellows are required to report via email to the director of programs and national outreach the following information: the number of girls present, the material covered, the interactive activities that took place and any general feedback about the material and how it was received by the girls.

As part of the program, Girls Health Ed teaching fellows distribute pre-and-post-evaluation to the girls in order to determine the efficacy of the workshops and their impact on the participants. The teaching fellows take notice of the positive changes they see in the girls throughout the course of the program. Angela Young, a teaching fellow in Washington, D.C. since 2014, notes, “I always feel privileged to witness these young girls starting to recognize their own self-worth and identify their strengths while receiving positive feedback from their peers.”

Teaching fellows are reimbursed for their transportation to and from workshop sites and for any food, beverages and materials they bring to workshops. In many cases, Girls Health Ed provides sanitary products for workshop participants through in-kind donations, which is especially useful given that many of the girls in the program do not have access to or cannot afford sanitary products, which can have a negative effect on other areas of their lives.

By the end of the workshops, more girls were able to answer the fact-based questions correctly than were able to before the start of the workshops. For example, one of the biggest changes related to the girls’ understanding of the many uses of the birth control and that fact that it can be taken to help manage one’s menstrual period and treat acne. While at the beginning of workshops, around 70 percent of girls felt comfortable talking to their parents about these topics, about 80 percent felt comfortable by the end.

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