It’s 8:30 AM on a Thursday and I am in the kitchen at Klinic on Broadway- which is home base for our Teen Talk program. Gillian, a Teen Talk team member and one of my guides for the day is making coffee, which she explains is what she always tries to do first. Ian, another Teen Talk team member, is explaining that he tries to not get to schools too early as we just get in the way. We are due at our first school in the west end for a 9 a.m. start. The subject is STI and HIV. As we drive over, Ian and Gillian tell me about some of the processes behind assigning workshops, how requests come in and are handled, how particularly busy the team has been this fall, and what some of the most asked for topic areas are.
The two topics I will be sitting in for today are two of the most popular, each fitting well with the provincial health curriculum that has been in place the last few years in Manitoba. Our first classroom is a group of grade 10’s who are just warming up for the day. Ian acknowledges 9 a.m. slots can be some of the most challenging to engage in; however, over the one-hour session Ian and Gillian manage to not only impart a lot of critical information on safer sex practices, they also do so in a manner that is both interesting and engaging. The students are respectful and a little bit shy, but become increasingly involved as the hour wears on, particularly for the session-ending game of sexual jeopardy followed by, dare I say, the climax of final jeopardy, including a lightning round condom competition.
After this session we head for coffee and the review of session evaluations that occurs after every session. Facilitators use this information both as a guide to how effective they are but also to address any questions students pose in follow up sessions.
The feedback is excellent and only a few questions have arisen, which will be addressed when they are back for a different topic tomorrow.
The next session is in Elmwood and is another grade 10 class, this time focused on healthy relationships and dating violence. A key component of this session is a video that was created several years ago by Teen Talk peer supporters and shows a wide range of relationships and potential abuse issues including physical, sexual, financial, and emotional. After the video there is a discussion of what a healthy relationship looks like (as pictured below). One of the things that really stood out for me in this session was when Gillian shared with the class that everyone deserves healthy relationships. It seemed such a simple and important message to share with youth- that each of us is deserving of love, respect and support.
Key things that I learned in my Teen Talk morning;
- It is not easy to be engaging with young people at 9 a.m. (respect for teachers everywhere!)
- That even when you think youth may not be listening, there is a good chance that they are
- That respect and tone are key to engaging youth, and in fact, likely all of us
- That there are a lot of stairs in the average day of a Teen Talk staff member
- That over the course of one week we may give upwards to 40 presentations in schools- which is a lot
- That this work is critical to ensuring our young people have the information and tools they need to be safe and healthy