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February 24, 2012

Medical students team up with CPS to improve HIV/AIDS education

Students in the University’s Pritzker School of Medicine will begin the lengthy task of developing close, personal ties with a number of Chicago public schools this spring, in an effort to make HIV/AIDS education more of a fixture in adolescent classrooms.

The HIV Intervention and Prevention (HIP) Corps, a service organization in which students teach middle school classes around the city about the myths and risk factors of the deadly disease, has been running since 2006. However, only this spring will the program begin to “adopt” schools for the purpose of establishing longer-term relationships with them, according to the course’s instructor, Global Health Programs Director John Schneider.

The hope is that HIP Corps teachers will be able to keep up with students through the years, which is crucial given that students about to enter high school are in an important transitional period in their lives.

“Our focus has been mostly on middle schools, the time when students first start becoming sexually active,” Schneider said in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, the Pritzker instructors will study prevention and education strategies on a global and local scale in an accompanying class entitled Global HIV Epidemiology and Community Outreach.

“It is an opportunity for students like us who are interested in social justice,” said Pritzker student Rachel Chen. “As a medical student, I was interested in how the University of Chicago tries to improve the community around them.”

According to Schneider, the program hopes to send more students out into the field earlier this spring than in previous years, and to incorporate a wider array of schools. The Global HIV elective will begin in April, and students will start reaching out to schools after spending the first month on intensive study of the disease using the latest Chicago epidemiology.

“This year we will be starting linkages with schools before the course even starts,” Schneider said.

It can be a tricky task to gauge the effectiveness of education initiatives like HIP Corps, which target cultural contributors to disease like popular misconceptions disseminated in the media and by word-of-mouth.

But Schenider has hope.

“If the question is, ‘Has the class been related to lowering the rates of HIV?’ Probably not,” Schneider said. “However, if we can have an impact on students making decisions that put them at less risk, then yes, it has been a success.”

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