Back to Campus by Betsy Herrman, Mary Lanning Community Health Center

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the holidays. It’s late summer and students are headed back to school. And it feels like the whole school year stretches ahead, full of possibility.

This time of year still marks a fun transition in my work as an outreach educator for Community Health Center in Hastings. Our community is home to Central Community College and Hastings College, three high schools, and we serve a number of school districts in smaller communities in the area. Here are a few things I do to help prepare for a successful school year.

Sometime in July or August (it’s not too late!) I send a letter to educators, reminding them that we are available to help boost or supplement their curriculum with presentations on a variety of sexual and reproductive health topics.  I use school websites, sometimes confirming with a phone call, to identify the most likely teachers at all the schools in our area. I look beyond health classes, since many times schools do not have a dedicated health teacher. In addition, I include family and consumer sciences teachers, life skills teachers, school nurses, and sometimes guidance counselors. I have even given presentations for AP human anatomy courses on STD transmission.

I also provide a two-page document with a short paragraph describing the content and goals of the most common presentations I offer. Often a teacher might feel nervous about scheduling someone to come in and discuss birth control, but they are very open to a discussion about STIs, or healthy relationships and consent, or reproductive anatomy, or social media and online safety.

In addition, I send a version of this letter to a variety of community partners who work with youth and adults, such as homeless shelters, after school groups, those working with people in recovery, and others. Many agency directors are aware of our services, but as new staff cycle in and out we can be forgotten. It’s helpful to make sure they get at least an annual reminder.

Also, I begin making contacts with staff and faculty at the two college campuses. I contact student life or residence life staff to include a brochure or card in the welcome packets for new student orientation. I ask if there are places like student unions, residence halls, bathrooms, locker rooms, student health offices, etc. where I can hang posters or leave a stack of cards or brochures. I ask about attending a training or staff meeting for Residence Life staff, to help make them aware of what we offer. I make sure to reserve a table or booth at the CCC’s “Fall Festival,” a welcome-back fair, and at Hastings College’s “Involvement Fair” to help students find avenues to volunteer or be involved in their community. I contact the HC campus nurse and the CCC student life staff to discuss a schedule of free STD and HIV testing events on campus.

Request a face-to-face meeting with campus staff to discuss how you might be able to work together. Some campuses and schools are more receptive and open than others. It took many years for us to be able to offer testing at CCC, but finally with the right folks on campus advocating for it we were able to open that door. Much of the above can be initiated via email, phone, or just a few quick in person meetings. I find that when I lay this groundwork early in the school year, it helps me feel prepared and on top of things once the whirlwind of the school year has begun.

Check the NEFP blog in September for more tips on keeping your youth outreach moving smoothly.