“Giving young people the resources to keep themselves healthy or to keep their children healthy is very important to me.”
Sarah Weaver was only 19 when she realized that she was pregnant. She remembered, “I didn’t know about the options that I had—whether it was birth control before I got pregnant or clinic-based services afterwards to make sure that I stay healthy.” She feels fortunate that her family supported her in every way during this challenging phase of her life. Now, she is happily married again and devoted to raising her two children. In 2015, she went on to graduate from the Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, minoring in sociology. She hopes to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.
Life came back full circle for Sarah when she became a peer educator for the Re:MIX program with EngenderHealth in Austin, Texas. As part of this initiative, Sarah now reaches out to adolescents in schools to talk about issues that no one spoke about when she was in high school. The curriculum covers discussions around healthy relationships, consent, gender, sexually transmitted infections, and contraceptive options for girls and boys. The students are also given information about local health care centers where they can access youth-friendly services.
To connect with adolescents requires both skill and empathy. Sarah explained, “At first, we are the ‘blow off’ class. Most students feel that they don’t need to pay attention to what we have to say. But by the end of these sessions, the response changes. At one school, we were asked to come back for an extra day. At another school, students requested us to visit them again. On the last day of one of our classes, a kid hugged and thanked us for doing what we are doing. So you can see the difference.”
Among the range of topics, consent and birth control are two areas that catch the attention of these teenagers. Sarah shared that there “is a lot of confusion around the issue of ‘consent.’ In our curriculum, we emphasize that if you have consent at one point, it doesn’t mean that you have consent at another point. This usually leads to a deeper discussion. Moreover, many kids don’t know that they have the right to use birth control and the right to choose what kind of birth control they want.”
Once, a school teacher checked with the students to see how many among them had spoken to their parents about any of these issues. Fewer than a third raised their hands. Sarah said, “It was sad to see that parents weren’t talking to their kids about any of this. So many of them were sexually active with no resources or knowledge to keep themselves safe. That moment made this job seem meaningful. Giving young people the resources to keep themselves healthy or to keep their children healthy is very important to me.”
She went on to reflect, “Becoming a parent at 19 was incredibly and unexpectedly difficult. I can see the way this journey has benefited me. The role of a peer educator is to show that if you are a young parent, it can turn out okay, and you can still get where you want to in life. I am grateful for my story. It is nice to be able to tell a young parent that it’s going to be okay.”
1Re:MIX is a comprehensive sexual health program aimed at reducing rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among youth in Central Texas. Re:MIX pairs peer educators who are young parents with clinic-based health educators to cofacilitate the Re:MIX health curriculum among a target population of 13–17-year-olds.