Thanks to the previous success of an HIV prevention program developed in a rural Georgia school system, Mike Smith, Ph.D., has been tapped by the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lead in the development of a similar program for Native American youth in the western U.S.
Dr. Smith, Director of AIDS Education and Research at the Mercer School of Medicine, said the original program, called STAND -- Students Together Against Negative Decisions -- was created at the request of medical and educational leaders in a Middle Georgia county following a syphilis outbreak in the early 1990s. Since then, STAND has been implemented in a number of Georgia counties, including Bibb County, in both in-school, after-school and community settings.
STAND is a 32-hour course in prevention of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy that trains teen opinion leaders to be role models and peer educators who promote abstinence and risk education with their friends. Teens chosen for the program are identified by their peers as the students they would most trust to talk to about sexual matters. The new program is to be called Native STAND and will employ similar procedures to train Native American youth to be peer educators and role models. A pilot study of Native STAND is planned for this fall in Native American boarding schools and/or other high schools with large proportions of Native Americans. The full version of Native STAND is scheduled to be available the following year.
“When it comes to changing attitudes and behaviors,” Dr. Smith said, “we believe that peer education is a great place to start. Peer educator programs are used all over the world, but none have been developed for Native Americans. We are very excited that IHS and CDC have selected our program to develop for Native American youth. Peers have the largest effect of all factors that influence teen norms and behaviors. Teenagers are more likely to listen to and follow other teens than adults, so these programs can be very effective.”
The STAND curriculum includes basic information about STDs, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, personal values, goal setting, problem-solving, personal commitment, personalization of risk, handling peer pressure, and skills building. The message is presented to the teenagers through games, mini-lectures, role-playing, team building, discussion, videos, practice with feedback and a “question box,” Dr. Smith said.
The curriculum development team includes specialists from CDC, IHS, and the National Coalition of STD Directors, in addition to youth and adult representatives of various Native American organizations.