When asked about the best way to give back to the community, Elevate Orlando teacher and mentor Chevarlyn Corley has her answer ready: “sharing knowledge and wisdom with youth so that they can make better decisions and improve their futures.”
Just over a year ago, Corley started working with Elevate Orlando, a non-profit dedicated to this mission: equipping central Florida urban youth with the skills to thrive and contribute to their communities through afterschool education programs.
As a teacher, Corley prioritizes “providing as much experience and exposure to students as we can,” especially on essential topics she knows her students are not learning about elsewhere. For example, stigma surrounding menstrual health in families is often a barrier to conversations about health that could take place at home. Many of Corley’s students have little to no accurate knowledge about menstruation and the way their bodies work.
That’s where the Period Education Project comes in. The Period Education Project, or “PEP” pairs passionate medical students–Period Pros–with community organizations working with young people, like Elevate Orlando. Period Pros host PEP Rallies, shame-free, medically accurate menstrual health education programs to help young girls learn about their bodies.
Elevate Orlando facilitated a PEP rally with Period Pros Suzannah Patterson & Priscilla Francois. Corley attended the rally, and helped facilitate and guide student participation. She observed first hand the immense impact that the PEP rally had on her students: “My girls walked away asking so many questions–they were so excited to learn about their bodies.”
According to Corley, the Period Pros played a pivotal role in breaking down stigma: “They removed the taboo of talking about menstruation and allowed the girls to be more free when asking questions. The Period Pros made them feel safe.”
Breanna McKnight, one of Corley’s colleagues at Elevate Orlando, attributes the creation of this safe space to the vulnerability and honesty that the Period Pros displayed when interacting with students.
“The students were shocked. The two Period Pros leading the PEP rally were so open and honest with the girls about everything,” she said. Creating this “safe space” for students and their questions is something that all Period Pros are committed to.
Lee McLeod, Psych Coordinator for Communities in Schools at Haut Gap Middle School in South Carolina, also noticed how the presence of Period Pros makes a difference in how information is received by students. Communities in Schools is a drop-out prevention organization that has been utilizing puberty health education materials from Girlology, PEP’s partner organization, for over 12 years. Although the relationship is longstanding, 2021 is the first year that Communities in Schools has facilitated a live PEP rally.
“I love that the Period Pros are willing to teach. It is so helpful to have an outside perspective. For the students, knowing that they are hearing from aspiring healthcare professionals, they take the lessons more seriously,” she said.
Beyond the additional inspiration the Period Pros bring to the lessons, McLeod said that her students were engaged and empowered by the interactions by the call and response format and Q&A segment of the program.
“The girls loved guessing and then figuring it out,” McLeod said. “They felt empowered when they were able to provide the correct answer, or when they already knew what it was. Just being able to have their voices heard and be a part of the conversation is very meaningful.”