By: Angelique Doty
Peer Health Exchange, also known as PHE, is a national organization dedicated to empowering and informing high school students from low income communities about health. College students volunteering for PHE hold workshops for high school students where they teach about topics such as substance abuse, mental health, and sexual consent. After months of training, Pacific’s PHE chapter is finally ready to go into virtual classrooms and host workshops for Stockton’s high school students.
Jona Naqo, Biochemistry, 21’ is the Affiliate Program Manager. She founded Pacific’s PHE chapter in March 2019. She started the chapter to help high schoolers in the Stockton community. According to Naqo, collaborating with PHE was an ideal solution for the lack of resources related to mental health, substance use, and unintended pregnancies in Stockton public high schools. As Co-Coordinator, she helped train a group of 30 college students to teach skills-based health curriculum in local high schools.
“I realized that Stockton public high schools lacked many [health education] resources, so collaborating with PHE seemed an ideal solution,” said Naqo. She also collaborated with other team members to develop a cohesive and inclusive community for high school students in underserved communities and implement support strategies and equity-informed decision-making to create a culture of belonging.
By participating in these interactive workshops, high school students gain knowledge on how to take ownership over their personal health and wellbeing. College students who are trained to become Health Educators (HEs) lead these workshops in a student-centered and inclusive way. The majority of the HEs are born and raised in Stockton and other cities nearby, so they easily understand students’ needs based on their own similar backgrounds.
This is Pacific’s second year collaborating with PHE, and this time the workshops are delivered synchronously and asynchronously online due to the pandemic. Currently, Pacific students are leading workshops at ABLE Charter Schools twice a week. There are ten HEs that are leading workshops in cohorts that mentor 9th graders.
Edith De La Rosa, English, 21’, is part of the Leadership Council for PHE. Formerly a Health Educator, her primary role is to prepare HEs for their workshops in the classrooms. She talked about witnessing how as workshops progressed students reached out for help controlling anger, managing depression, and gaining access to health-related resources.
“Teenagers really need someone to listen to what they have to say and they have a lot of questions about their health. There may be obstacles or boundaries that stop them from having the conversations that they desperately need, but at PHE, we are helping them overcome those obstacles and allowing them to receive the resources they need,” said De La Rosa.
Alyssa Martinez, Biological Sciences, ‘21, has been a PHE Health Educator since the chapter was founded last school year. She talked about how much she enjoys her position.
“When facilitating workshops, I truly feel like we are making a difference for these students. We work to break down barriers centering topics like identity, advocacy, equality, and equity. We destigmatize mental health.”
Martinez is also excited about connecting with the students again and continuing to make a positive impact on the local Stockton community with her fellow Health Educators. The accessibility of the online workshops allows PHE to extend outside of Stockton and she is looking forward to reaching out to more students.
Michelle Chen, Psychology, 22’, currently serves as one of the co-coordinators of PHE. When asked about the process of recruiting HEs, Chen felt that Pacific students who were willing to open up and share their passion for empowering the youth would be the best role models for the youth of the Stockton community.
“I believe the workshops for the HEs are one step to fulfilling PHE's mission in empowering youth with knowledge, resources, and skills to make healthy decisions. The youth in our community may feel more comfortable divulging sensitive matters with a college student who was in their position in the past. Since our HEs understand their role as intergenerational leaders and resources, they are held accountable for the data they pass down to the youth,” said Chen.
Workshops with ABLE Charter School are facilitated from this March until the beginning of May. In the past, Pacific’s PHE chapter has worked with other schools in Stockton such as Stockton Collegiate International Schools.
For students who are interested, recruitments for new HEs will begin Fall 2021. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
PC: Jona Naqo