Elsa, like most teens, thinks it’s “awkward to learn about sex from adults.” Bridgercare and HAVEN’s peer educators – a group of about twenty high schoolers trained extensively in a variety of sexual health and healthy relationship topics – seeks to make the topic a little less awkward by serving as knowledgeable resources for their classmates so that teens can be empowered with knowledge. Serving as a resource for their peers is one of the main reasons high school students decide to join peer educators. That, and because the group is seen as a tight-knit family of fun, caring, and compassionate individuals from all of the many friend groups that develop at a high school. When asked why they joined Peer Ed (as the teens affectionately call it), almost all of the members said it was because they looked up to people in Peer Ed or they had friends who participated.
After being selected in a rigorous interview process with former peer educators, the new class of peer educators attended a 2.5 day retreat at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in the Paradise Valley. This retreat – funded through a Bozeman Area Community Foundation Leadership Grant – allowed the team of peer educators to build strong relationships with one another, begin learning the content they would be presenting on throughout the year, learn about leadership through a ropes course, and have some fun. All before the school year began!
The Peer Educators know, however, that being a member of this group is not all fun and games. The peer educators meet each week for two hours to continue learning about sexual health and relationship topics from knowledgeable community members. They also have the opportunity to visit classrooms and local organizations all over the Gallatin Valley upon request to do formal presentations on different topics with Community Outreach Specialists from Bridgercare and HAVEN. And, of course, they make themselves available for questions from their peers whenever necessary.
Elsa, who is a 2nd-year Peer Educator, also says that “Hearing information on these topics from peers is more meaningful.” Having peers present information about sexual health may not necessarily make the environment much less awkward, but it does help. Cami Armijo-Grover, Community Outreach Specialist at Bridgercare, told of one particularly silent classroom that the peer educators visited. Later that day a student from that class visited Bridgercare during Teen Clinic hours, a time when teens can visit Bridgercare for free and confidential services. She was confident in conversing with her healthcare provider and knew what type of birth control she wanted because of information presented by Peer Educators.
This is what the Peer Education program is all about: leveraging peer-to-peer relationships and knowledge sharing to empower teens to make healthy choices! Peer Educator John said it best. Peer Ed has helped him to “learn to open my heart to people because you don’t always know what they are going through.”