The Donna Independent School District is the first in the Valley to enter into an agreement with The Valley AIDS Council (VAC) and offer awareness presentations to safeguard students against HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
The first session was held recently at Donna’s 3D Academy High School. The Director of Education for the Valley AIDS Council Oscar Lopez showed a powerful PowerPoint presentation detailing what students need to know about HIV and AIDS in the Valley including alarming statistics that most people are not aware of. “In South Texas, we average four new diagnosed infections every week,” Lopez pointed out to the students. “Every nine days we identify one new HIV positive youth 13 to 24. That’s 41 new infections in 2015.”
Students also heard from a young man who learned he had contracted HIV and AIDS while in high school. “He went to get checked at the clinic to see what it was and not only did he have one of the STDs, but he found out that he was also HIV positive at 17 years of age,” Lopez said.
His testimonial visibly impacted the students. “To be honest they were enthralled because it’s not the same hearing from somebody in his 40s that this is what you need to do to protect yourself as it is hearing from one of their own,” Lopez said. “This young man made it very real for them, that ‘hey if it can happen to me it can happen to you.’ ”
The students even showed empathy toward the young man. “They congratulated him for having the courage to speak up about being positive because that is not easy to do in the Rio Grande Valley or in Texas,” Lopez said. “Some of them hung around after the class was done to ask questions and to seek out care. We’re actually now seeing some of those students today to provide clinical care. I don’t think that linkage would have happened if we weren’t in the classroom.”
The presentation is one of several that will be held during this school year thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the district signed with VAC and effective up until May 2017. Lopez said the MOU wouldn’t have happened without the support of the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), an advisory group comprised of individuals that represents different segments of the Donna community.
Under the MOU, VAC will conduct presentations to Donna ISD students in grades 6-12. Lopez said this is the first time in years that VAC or any agency has been able to get into a school district. “Not since the late 1980s has any entity that does this work been able to get into a Valley school district because we became an abstinence-only state,” Lopez said. “What ended up happening for the most part was that almost every school stopped teaching any sort of sexual and re-protective health classes or aids awareness courses.”
Lopez commended Donna ISD for being the first Valley school district to allow VAC to offer the health-related education courses. “We are thrilled,” Lopez said. “Donna is the first and only district that is doing this aggressively and that wants to get the information to their students. Donna is going to save lives.”
Lopez said it’s all about educating the students. “What we’re doing is hopefully raising awareness about HIV, giving young people the education they need to remain abstinent,” Lopez stressed. “If that’s not realistic for them in their lives, they should at least know how to protect themselves. We also talk to them about what to do if they are in a situation where someone is taking advantage of them so they can know what to do about protecting themselves and where to seek out care.”
Students like Nichell Viacobo appreciated the presentation. “I think it was actually very helpful because they gave us ideas of what to do to protect ourselves against HIV and AIDS and what to do if we actually do have HIV,” Vacobo said. “It was helpful.”
VAC hopes other school districts will follow Donna ISD’s footsteps and open their doors to their presentations.