The Donna Independent School District is in the forefront when it comes to making sure its middle and high school students have access to comprehensive, science-based, sexual health education, according to the Valley AIDS Council (VAC).

VAC leaders expressed their appreciation to Donna ISD recently at its annual fundraiser Music, Merriment, & Magic Dining for a Cause at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium. Donna ISD Superintendent Fernando Castillo was honored with the Community Trail Blazer Award while the district’s Director of Nursing Rosemary Campos received the Community Ally Award.

7“Every year the Valley AIDS Council recognizes leaders, allies and people in the community who have made a tremendous difference in the previous year toward advancing HIV prevention, addressing AIDs stigma and raising community awareness,” VAC’s Director of Education Oscar Lopez said. “I don’t think anyone this past year has done that better than Donna ISD, in particular the superintendent and head of nursing.”

DISD is being recognized for opening its doors to VAC this academic year and allowing the non-profit agency to address all students in grades 6-12. VAC’s PowerPoint presentation details what students need to know about HIV and AIDS, what preventative measures they can take and the services available if they’re infected or are at risk of HIV/AIDS. The information also includes alarming statistics that most people are not aware of. “In South Texas, we average four new diagnosed infections every week,” Lopez said. “Every nine days we identify one new HIV positive youth age 13 to 24.”

Lopez said that Campos helped make this opportunity happen. “Campos approached us and said ‘we want to do this, we want to make sure our young people have access to comprehensive science-based sex education,’ ” Lopez said.

8.jpg“She was the one who spearheaded a Memorandum of Understanding between the VAC and the school district which we wrote together and received approval from the school board. She’s the one who advocated with the Superintendent and then made sure that we were able to train all her nursing staff as well as the local School Health Advisory Council (SHAC).” The advisory group is comprised of individuals that represents different segments of the Donna community.

But Lopez points out that none of this would have happened if it were not for Castillo’s support.

“Superintendent Castillo has served as an example to the other superintendents across the Valley who refuse to open their doors to this information and only willing to let us talk about abstinence which is valuable but not realistic for all youth,” Lopez said. “Superintendent Castillo made sure that all the principals received the education they needed to support us and open their doors at their schools. We knew what we were doing. His faith and trust in us to do what is best for the students made this possible. We owe him a huge thanks.”

The VAC presentations were made available to several thousand DISD middle and high school students. Lopez said that recent media reports about the awareness campaign is prompting other Valley schools in Weslaco, Mercedes and San Benito to reach out to VAC about doing presentations at their campuses.

“The access that we have to young people would not have occurred without Donna first opening up its doors and willing to have this conversation.” Lopez said.