SHIFT recruits BHS students to teach sexual health information


“SHIFT is a peer-led educator group that aims to give, to freshmen mostly, but students at (Berkeley High School) comprehensive sex ed., and also (to) connect students with the health center,” Sasha Spanier, a BHS senior who works with SHIFT as a peer educator, said. 

SHIFT stands for Sexual Health Information From Teens, and the group is working towards giving presentations to the Universal Ninth Grade (U9) at BHS. Students will be trained with the health educators, Kaye Bergamot and Theresa Sims, and will present to U9 on topics such as STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infection) and birth control methods.

“We’re trying to have a really diverse group,” Bergamot said, “(by) being really inclusive to students of color, students who English might not be their first language, LGBTQ+ students. And also, we’re going to try in the curriculum to cover things like how birth control can be gender-affirming, looking beyond heteronormative or monogamous partnership as well and how to navigate healthy sexuality through that.” 

Bergamot and Sims work for AmeriCorps and were placed to be health educators at BHS. “We are in a really small group. We haven’t finalized it yet, but 12 to 15 total participants. A lot of SHIFT is community building, building relationships, and making sure everyone feels comfortable with one another,” Sims said. Their positions include running SHIFT, as well as helping out in the health center. This is the first year they’re running the program.

“Information that is actually digestible, that actually makes sense, that can actually apply to your life, and really fully understanding that and being able to share that with other people, I think that is, in SHIFT’s essence, what it’s about. Just peers sharing knowledge to other peers, that is true, empowering, and not shameful,” Nora Costello, a BHS senior and peer educator in the SHIFT program, said.

A goal of SHIFT in the future is to give these presentations not only to freshmen but to all of BHS as they progress through high school. “Sexual health is knowledge that everyone will need for the entirety of their life, whether they’re sexually active or not,” Spanier said.

“Unfortunately, we have a rape culture at Berkeley High (School), and I think a big way to combat rape culture and sexual assault culture is through education,” Spanier said. “Education is a huge tool in combating that and making sure people know how to have safe sex, and how to protect themselves. Studies have shown that comprehensive sex ed. hugely lowers the rate of teen pregnancy.” 

In 2022, According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), approximately 13 percent of adolescent girls and young women worldwide were estimated to give birth before reaching the age of 18. An additional study done by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  found that increased federal funding for comprehensive sex education led to a decrease of over three  percent in teen birth rates at the county level.

Spanier said, “SHIFT is a really amazing program, and loads of other schools in the Bay Area don’t cover sex ed. at all. The resources we have that we’re even able to facilitate a conversation to educate our students (are) so important. It’s stuff that will last you a lifetime, and it can make you a resource for your friends and your younger siblings.” 

On the state level, California law requires, under the California Healthy Youth Act, that students should receive sexual health and HIV prevention education at least once during middle school and once during high school. The California Healthy Youth Act was enacted in Jan. of 2016.

The period to turn in applications for SHIFT ended on Thursday March 7, 2024, but Sims said, “Even if you’re not doing SHIFT, you can still get the message out there that sex ed. should be for everybody.”