April 25, 2003
AIDS education is especially important in Miami-Dade County, which has the second-highest AIDS rate in the nation among metro areas, and which had the state's highest number of new HIV cases in 2002. Florida also ranks second-highest in pediatric AIDS cases -- many of them in Miami-Dade.
Jacquelyn White, AIDS education director for the district, said the effort's goal is to impress on students why they should be concerned about the disease. "If they engage in risky behavior, they will be at-risk, regardless of their age, income level or location," she said.
The AIDS curriculum is consistent across the county, but the classroom conversation varies. At suburban McMillan, which is about 96 percent Hispanic, students scribbled a lot of notes, and some giggled as instructor Marta Pallidine explained the difference between HIV and AIDS. Across town at predominantly black Brownsville Middle School, science instructor Kevin Ross discussed AIDS prevention in frank terms with a class of eighth- graders. "Many of you learn about sex from the streets," Ross said. "You'd rather believe your friend than you would the scientists."
AIDS education in the county's public schools has come a long way from its stormy beginning 14 years ago, when a resident successfully sued to have his HIV-infected triplets attend regular classes; they had previously been taught in a private room rented by the school board. The district scrambled to teach educators and students how the disease was and was not transmitted, White said. More formal training was established later.
Florida law requires HIV/AIDS education for all students, though parents can decline to have their children participate. "The students seem interested. They think they know more than they do. There's a lot of misinformation out there," said White.