VMHS student project leads to national-level training to take their plans further

                What began as an ambitious community service project idea for Veterans Memorial High School (VMHS) students involved in the HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) has not only helped improve the safety climate at VMHS, earned the students second place in a national competition; but now it is providing them the chance to learn how to expand upon their project and spread their message further.

                A team of four students, two parents, and two campus staff members have been selected to participate in a training institute run by Love is Respect. This is a national non-profit that works to eliminate domestic and dating violence.  The team of students will be trained on how to implement and teach the program’s Start Talking curriculum as well as receive training on implementing an awareness campaign to support it. The non-profit selects a limited number of participants for the training.

                Vanessa Osorio, Giselle Castillo, Jasmine Santos, and Karina Farias plan to make the trip to Dallas, Texas in mid-November for the two-day institute. The parents and staff members will participate in their own separate instructional tracks. They include parents Elma Castillo and Nadine Santos; and staff members Elizabeth Sommo and Vanessa Rogers.

                This has all grown out of the Love Shouldn’t Hurt campaign the VMHS HOSA chapter implemented last school year with the help of several school groups, including the Anti-Bullying Club. It was designed to bring awareness to the issue of teen dating violence and to work toward educating students about healthy relationships. Last year’s campaign included posters, banners, Purple Fridays where students and staff were encouraged to wear the campaign related color purple or buy specific Love Shouldn’t Hurt t-shirts, working with the Mission Mayor on city recognitions for dating violence month, video projects, classroom presentations, an awareness walk, and working with other student groups at Mission High School on a similar project.

                Last year’s project seems to have had some concrete results. In a campus climate survey conducted annually by the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant Program, the questions relating to dating violence showed a 9% drop in students reporting issues when comparing survey results from May 2012 to May 2013.

                The students indicated they plan to incorporate what they learn at the Love is Respect training into their growing plans for their awareness campaign this school year. Before attending the institute, the students must agree to implement and teach the curriculum they will learn. A minimum of ten lessons must be given during the year. The students said they hope to take the lessons beyond their campus, to include the junior high schools that feed into VMHS. At the end of the year, the students then provide feedback to the Break the Cycle/Love is Respect organization for further curriculum improvements so that it remains relevant to teens.

                VMHS Principal, Dr. Leticia Pena said she is very proud of the students involved. She said they have really taken ownership of this project and have really been focused on trying to make a difference.

                More information about Love is Respect can be found online at, http://www.loveisrespect.org.

                Pictured from left to right are: Elizabeth Sommo, VMHS prevention/intervention manager; Vanessa Osorio, student; Jasmine Santos, student; Karina Farias, student; Giselle Castillo, student; Dr. Leticia Pena, VMHS principal.