Sound Advice Originates from Unexpected Source
By Antwan Staley and Joy Holster
Worried parents frequently deliver sage advice for college-age children living on campuses far from home.
“Wear your hat. Eat your vegetables. Don’t drink and drive,” parents urge. In response, the children shrug and roll their eyes and then go out without their hat.
While parental advice from parents draws little compliance, college students are much more likely to listen to their peers. At East Carolina University, college-age peers are delivering first-rate advice in unique ways through the ECU Peer Health Educators and Healthy Pirates program offered by Campus Recreation and Wellness.
ECU Assistant Director for Peer Health Georgia Childs runs the program in conjunction with her health classes, in which she trains the students to plan, implement and evaluate health education awareness programs. Her students earn academic credit while educating their peers on campus and in the Greenville area. The Healthy PIRATES (Peers Influencing Responsible Actions Throughout Everyday Situations) student organization supports the peer educators’ efforts.
This semester, Childs and her students are working with the ECU Athletics Department, the Student Athlete Advisory Council, and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force to produce a video called Pirate Party Principles, which encourages students to make well-informed decisions on alcohol use.
“We know that alcohol is the number one misused substance on campus,” Childs said. “So we teamed up to help raise awareness and teach students how to party smart.”
The video stars ECU student athletes and is being shown at home football, basketball and baseball games. The athletes explain the smart party principles: know your limits, watch your drink, travel in groups, designate a driver, and protect your fellow Pirates.
Peer health educators also disemminate information by cruising campus in a golf cart, as part of the Wellness on Wheels program offered through ECU Campus Wellness. Once a month, the team decorates the cart with an inflatable birthday cake and sets out to present the 21st Birthday Brigade. They seek out students who are celebrating their milestone birthday during the month. Birthday students receive a free T-shirt that lists the five Pirate party principles.
“Our hope is that by celebrating this milestone with some fun…students will remember to be safe and make the best decisions regarding their 21st birthday celebration,” Childs said. The high profile, decked-out golf cart traveling across campus, she said, “reaches students who might not otherwise come into a facility asking for information.”
Childs encourages students in her classes to present health topics in a positive, nonjudgmental manner. “Our philosophy is to offer health and wellness information that empowers the students to use critical thinking skills to make their own decisions. This includes non-judgmental advice about the consequences of engaging in risky behavior – without preaching to the students,” Childs said.
While drug and alcohol awareness is an important issue on campus, students also share information on topics such as sexual health, nutrition, body image and eating disorders, physical activity, smoking and stress management.
The peer health educators use educational games, give-aways and information tables to focus on specific topics during such health awareness events as Breast and Testicular Cancer Awareness, the Great American Smokeout, World AIDS Day, Sexual Responsibility Week, and National Nutrition Month.
Students enrolled in the peer health classes may become Certified Peer Educators through training designed by the BACCHUS Peer Education Network, a non-profit organization out of Denver, Colo. that promotes student- and youth-based leadership in health and safety.
Peer Health Education courses are offered through a partnership with the Department of Health Education and Promotion for course credit in health education. The educators also attend a national Peer Education Conference each spring and fall, where they present the programs they have implemented on campus. Childs said ECU students have won a number of awards for their presentations and the university is considered a leading organization in the network.
For additional information, contact Childs at 328-5172.