Peer Health Exchange
Peer Health Exchange is a 501(c)3 organization that was created to address health problems in today's youth. It is made up of college students in Boston, New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and the Bay Area who volunteer in public high schools to teach health education classes. The goal of the non-profit organization is to give teenagers the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions. Peer Health Exchange does this by training college students to teach a comprehensive health curriculum in public high schools that lack health education 
Due to staffing shortages and budget cuts in public high schools, sexual and health education has suffered. To prevent growing trends in adolescents engaging in risky or harmful behavior in sexual and personal spheres of their lives, Peer Health Exchange (PHE) works to provide this education. The Peer Health Exchange website lists these statistics: one in six teenagers are overweight or obese , one in five sexually active teen girls becomes pregnant every year , half of all adolescents who continue smoking will die eventually from a smoking-related illness , one in five teenagers experiences violence in a relationship, each year one in four sexually-active young people contract an STI , and one in three teenagers is a binge-drinker.
The plan and the hopeful solution
In 1999, six graduates from Yale University began going into underfunded and understaffed public high schools in New Haven, Connecticut to teach health workshops. The founding members of this New Haven group, (which now reaches ten New Haven public schools with over 100 volunteers) established Peer Health Exchange, Inc in 2003. They brought their program to New York City first, training over 150 volunteers from Barnard College, Columbia University, and New York University and reaching 1300 low-income high school students that would otherwise have not received any health education in school. In 2006, PHE launched a program in Boston, training college students from Boston University and Harvard College. In the 2006–2007 school year, PHE trained over 270 volunteers in Boston and New York City and reached 1,600 high school students. The program has also been extended into Chicago, Illinois, training college students from DePaul University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and University of Illinois Chicago Campus. And to further its impact, in July 2007 PHE initiated a five-year growth plan to deepen impact in current cities and spread throughout the country to new sites, including Mills College, University of Southern California, St. Mary's College of California, and University of California, Berkeley.
The mission of Peer Health Exchange is to give teenagers the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions. They do this by training college students to teach a comprehensive health curriculum in public high schools that lack health education.
In order to provide teenagers with knowledge of sexual and health education, PHE works with public high schools where much of the student body is living at or below the poverty threshold and is at a higher risk for health issues like teenage pregnancy or obesity.
The volunteers are recruited and chosen from surrounding colleges and then trained in the PHE curriculum which includes 12 standardized health workshops highlighting issues like: substance abuse, nutrition, and sexual health. They are often students including public service in many areas of their life and 90% of past volunteers express that PHE affected their career goals after college. Using the slightly older students as peers, PHE offers the benefits of peer education while using traditional methods of instruction. The volunteers speak to the students in ways relevant to their everyday lives and can serve as role models demonstrating healthy behavior. The high school students are encouraged to articulate their values and goals while learning basic, accurate health information. They are encouraged to explore the way the media and their peers perceive and act towards issues of health. Part of the PHE curriculum is to help the students practice their communication skills as well as risk evaluation, prevention, decision-making through role-playing resembling true to life situations.
Peer Health Exchange hopes that their volunteers will help teenagers protect their bodies and lives while providing them with the knowledge and skills. Their hope is that they can apply the skills learned in PHE workshops outside of the classroom by making informed decisions. Their ultimate goal is to keep the students in—and excelling in—school, in the workforce, staying away from risky behavior, and building on a healthy future .
Undergraduate volunteers at Barnard College and Columbia University teach the PHE health curriculum to teenagers in six New York City, New York high schools: Facing History School; Heritage School; Martin Luther King Jr. High School for Law, Advocacy, and Community Justice; Martin Luther King Jr. High School for Arts and Technology; Frederick Douglass High School; and the Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction.
The New York University undergraduate volunteers teach the PHE health curriculum to teenagers in five New York City, NY high schools: East Side Community High School, Manhattan Village Academy, Marta Valle Model School, and University Neighborhood High School, and the Urban Assembly School of Government and Law.
Boston University undergraduate volunteers teach the PHE health curriculum to teenagers in four Boston, Massachusetts high schools: Another Course to College, Boston Community Leadership Academy, Fenway High School, and New Mission High School.
The Harvard University undergraduate volunteers teach the PHE health curriculum to teenagers in two Boston, MA high schools: Charlestown High School and Excel High School.
The University of Chicago undergraduate volunteers teach the PHE curriculum to teenagers in five Chicago, IL high schools: Dyett High School, Hubbard High School, Kenwood Academy, Perspectives Charter School, and Woodlawn Charter School.
The DePaul University undergraduate volunteers teach the PHE health curriculum to teenagers in two Chicago, IL high schools: Roosevelt High School and Kelvyn Park High School.
The Northwestern University undergraduate volunteers teach the PHE health curriculum to teenagers in eight Chicago, IL high schools, including: Frederick Von Steubenn Metropolitan Science Center, Muchin College Prep, Nicholas Senn High School, Roger C. Sullivan High School, Rickover Naval Academy, Roosevelt High School, Chicago Math and Science Academy, and Carl Schurz High School.
The program has been extended to California where the University of San Francisco, St. Mary's College, Mills College, and University of California Berkeley are putting on pilot programs for the academic year of 2008-2009.. As of the 2010-2011 school year, PHE volunteers teach the curriculum at Arise High School, East Oakland School of the Arts, Leadership Preparatory High School, LPS College Park, City Arts & Technology High School, College Preparatory and Architecture Academy, Mandela High School, Fremont: Media College, Preparatory High School, Leadership High School, Lighthouse Community Charter School, Metropolitan Arts & Technology High School, MetWest High School, Millsmont Academy, Secondary Oakland Aviation High School, Oakland Military Institute, Oakland Unity High School, Skyline High School, and the Youth Empowerment School .
PHE has grown off of studies that demonstrate that teenagers are more likely to absorb health information from peer and educators their own age as opposed to adults. From their own study, 74% of PHE high school students reported that having college students teach them helped them learn the important health topics.
From evaluations completed in the 2005-2006 academic year by the PHE students, there were improvements in knowledge as well as actual decision-making that will only hope to improve in their futures. Over 80% said that they will use something that they learned from their Peer Health Exchange workshops to make healthy choices in the future. Almost half of the students said that they did so during the six months that they were in the program. In terms of knowledge, the PHE students made 20% improvements from a Pre-Test they took before embarking in the program and a Post-Test after it was completed.
While 100% of the high school principals participating in the program for the 2005-2006 academic year said they would recommend the program to other high schools, over 90% of the college volunteers said they would recommend participating in Peer Health Exchange to their college peers.
2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Nutrition. “Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity.” Pediatrics 112.2 (2003): 424-430.
3. Sugarman, D.B. and G.T. Hotaling. “Dating Violence: prevalence, context, and risk markers.” Violence in Dating Relationships. Ed. M.A. Pirog-Good and J.E. Stets. New York: Praeger, 1989.
4. Alan Guttmacher Institute. “Sex and America’s Teenagers.” Washington: AGI, 1994.
5. Alan Guttmacher Institute. “Facts in Brief: Teen Sex and Pregnancy.” 1999. 9 Feb. 2004.
6. United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Summary Results, 2001.” 9 Feb. 2004.
7. United States. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010. 2 vols. Washington: GPO, 2000.