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City People

Teens learn some unsexy truths

Lloyd Zimet gives teachers and students a reality check about the risks of physical intimacy: disease and pregnancy.

By Amy Scherzer
Published December 1, 2006


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Lloyd Zimet was 20 years younger and working as a health psychologist in San Francisco when his patients started showing up with a disease that had no name.

"My clients began to exhibit symptoms I didn't understand," he said. "It was a devastating disease, not even called AIDS yet, and unknown outside the gay community."

Today, on World AIDS Day, more than 40-million people around the world are living with HIV and AIDS. Zimet is trying to keep Hillsborough County teens from adding to that number.

Five years ago, all that Tampa students heard about the disease was one lecture by a nurse in 11th and 12th grades, Zimet said. Even students said the information came too late, especially in Hillsborough, which ranks third in the state for its number of AIDS cases and fourth for teen pregnancies.

These days, Zimet administers a federal grant to educate teens about HIV/AIDS and pregnancy prevention everywhere he can: middle and high schools, career centers, and alternative education and detention sites.

Students learn about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases starting in ninth grade and in different classes and contexts, from biology and health classes to social studies.

For example, the school district is co-sponsoring an essay contest for juniors and seniors taking American history and economics, asking them to write about why they should care about HIV and AIDS. Today, he expects students in Red Cross clubs to talk about the disease.

"Students need to look at historical and economical perspectives," said Zimet, 55.

Such discussions are needed, he said, because AIDS is different.

"AIDS is unique as a disease for not being viewed strictly as a public health issue," he said. "People tend to ignore facts and use it as a tool to judge and stigmatize, to moralize and blame the victim."

The political aspect stifled him at the AIDS Center of Queens County, N.Y., where Zimet directed AIDS prevention in the late 1980s. He quit to work as a private consultant in New York and Denmark, his home for more than a decade.

Two years ago, he moved to Northwest Tampa when his wife, Jeanne, was recruited to teach math in Pinellas County. His part-time job as a Hillsborough middle school specialist in teen pregnancy prevention expanded. He now works full time training the district's teachers in the Centers for Disease Control's HIV prevention program, a model for teaching students about HIV.

He works out of the Velasco Student Services Center in Ybor City. Under district policy, students are taught that abstinence is the only way to be disease free. But Zimet has expanded lesson plans to tell them more, from coaching students on how to say "no" to cautioning them about the dynamics of dating someone older.

Because of health privacy rights, there's no way to know which students might have AIDS or HIV.

"Unless a student requests assistance with medication, we don't know who they are," he said.

But then, the students may not know either. Zimet pointed out that two-thirds of new infections are spread by people unaware that they carry the virus.

Zimet is a walking textbook. He rattles off other statistics that disturb him: Nearly half of high school students are sexually active, with 15 percent of them reporting four or more sexual partners. Hillsborough County students reported 476 pregnancies during the 2005-06 school year. Last year, 1,200 teens in the county reported STDs.

"Lloyd's very persistent," said Sandra Gallogly, supervisor of school health services. "He wants to find ways to keep children optimally healthy."

She also admires his well-rounded knowledge base.

"You can ask him a question about anything from raising dogs to HIV, and he'll give you the answer."

Information is the key, Zimet says: "The only weapon we have against HIV is education. The better educated we are, the better decisions we learn to make."

Amy Scherzer can be reached at scherzer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3332.

[Last modified November 30, 2006, 07:58:43]


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