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HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and hepatitis affect American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities in disproportionate numbers. Youth, in particular, make up most of the AI/AN population, a group that reports early sexual debut 2.4 times more often than all American teens (2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey).
The Office of Minority Health Resource Center, along with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Kat Communications adapted the Circle of Life (COL), a middle school HIV curriculum, to a multimedia online format, with several internet-based training modules to address the basics of HIV and how to make better decisions for a healthy life.
The Circle of Life is based on the medicine wheel, a powerful teaching symbol about mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional wellness. It is a holistic health promotion model to help students learn about making healthy choices to prevent diseases like HIV/AIDS.The Circle of Life HIV/AIDS Prevention Curriculum is intended for middle school students, ages 10 to 13. The program infuses a multimedia rich format with various skill-building games and activities about making positive choices and the consequences of risky behaviors. The curriculum offers enough flexibility to accommodate a range of school schedules and learning settings, can be led by teachers, group leaders, students or other facilitators, and is flexible enough that it can be tailored to various settings and mixed age/gender groups.
The Circle of Life was selected because preliminary evaluation results show that the curriculum significantly delays first sexual encounter, increases HIV/AIDS knowledge and decreases the probability of alcohol and drug use, lasting for at least 12 months.
Additionally, the results from the Circle of Life Multimedia Pilots showed that overall, the online curriculum was preferred over classroom text and that there was a significant increase in information learned.
This work contributes to the various goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, in particular the reduction of new HIV infections, because the curriculum targets the youth audience of AI/AN people. Additionally, it also supports the goal of reducing HIV-related disparities. More than 33 percent of the AI/AN population is under the age of 18. Risk factors impacting youth, such as early sex activity and elevated drug and alcohol use, disproportionately impact the AI/AN population and increase overall vulnerability to early infection with HIV.
“I felt better about making better choices.” - Student Participant
“Kids need to learn about decision making at a young age, and then they can better take charge of their health” – School Administrator
The majority of participants in the pilot program rated the curriculum highly and would recommend this program to a friend or relation. “…it would teach them not to do dumb stuff,” said one participant, and “…would keep them from getting sick,” added another.