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‘What Goes Around’ Successfully Debuts in Kern County

The Kern High School District wraps up its first year of implementing Educational Theatre’s popular STD prevention program.

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After completing its first year of implementing the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Educational Theatre performance on preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the Kern High School District (KHSD) declared the effort a big success.

“The response all around has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Ryan Geivet, director of instruction, KHSD, of the live production, “What Goes Around.” “This project has been a great experience for the district and the students.”

“What Goes Around” has been educating Southern California youth for the past decade, with more than 60,000 high schoolers experiencing the popular performance annually. As a result of collaboration efforts led by Kristin Weber, Kaiser Permanente’s community health manager for Kern County, and representatives from KHSD, Kern County Public Health Services, and Educational Theatre, the district recently gave it the green light. The STD prevention message is especially important to share in Kern County, where STD rates rank among the top in the state.

“The main goals of the program are to educate students about STDs to help them make informed decisions if they choose to be sexually active, and to help bridge them to medical testing and treatment if needed,” said Gerry Farrell, director, Educational Theatre.

The district’s curriculum now includes a more comprehensive sex education program to align with state requirements mandated by the California Healthy Youth Act. The expanded curriculum combined with the Educational Theatre performance reinforces the students’ learning, whether it’s how to put on a condom or that abstinence is the only risk-free option.

“’What Goes Around’ is in line with the world our kids are living in right now,” said Geivet. “You have to make things fun and entertaining to keep them interested. This production brings their curriculum to life.”

Increasing STD awareness

“What Goes Around” emphasizes in a hip, noncritical way how STDs such as chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be contracted through unprotected sex.

The engaging story focuses on five friends as they navigate the final days of high school. When one of them contracts two sexually transmitted diseases, the issues of honesty and friendship cause them to question their relationships with each other and to consider their past and future choices. Using social media technology, comedy, and music, the hourlong production highlights the facts and myths about STDs. At the end of the performance, students are encouraged to ask the actor-health educators questions.

This is the first time Educational Theatre is providing a program to an entire school district. During the 2017-2018 school year, “What Goes Around” debuted in November and March to 10,206 juniors and seniors at 12 of KHSD’s 23 comprehensive and alternative high schools. Hundreds of students asked questions either after the performance or via social media.

In addition, on March 22, Kaiser Permanente leadership from its national and Southern California regional community health department met in Bakersfield with other local leaders to discuss critical health issues, including record-high STD rates. The group also saw a special “What Goes Around” performance at Mira Monte High School. Following the show, about 75 student leadership and Avid program students attended a panel presentation on health care careers.

Moving forward

This coming school year, juniors and seniors at the district’s other 11 schools also are scheduled to see “What Goes Around.” Like last year, parents will be invited to preview the performance at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Bakersfield High School.

Based on the positive feedback and need for resources to help address the high STD occurrences in Kern County, Kaiser Permanente community health, Educational Theatre, and district representatives are developing a three-year “What Goes Around” plan beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

“We’re picking up speed now with all this – we’re just getting going,” said Geivet.

Kern County ranks near top for multiple STD rates

A record number of STDs were reported in California in 2017, according to a recent report from the California Department of Public Health.  

More than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and early syphilis were reported in the state – a 45 percent increase compared to five years ago. There were also 30 stillbirths due to congenital syphilis reported in California in 2017, the highest number reported since 1995.

In Kern County, 2017 STD rates were up from 2016 and ranked near the top in California for:

  • Chlamydia (#3)
  • Congenital syphilis (#2)
  • Early syphilis (#4)
  • Gonorrhea (#4)

View the full breakdown of the numbers here.

Educational Theatre is a free Kaiser Permanente Community Health program that helps K-12 students and their families in at-risk communities develop healthy, lifelong habits.

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s work in the community, please visit https://community.kp.org.