In preparation for her child entering fifth grade two years ago, Jodie Howerton reviewed the HIV educational material that would be used in her daughter’s class and was shocked by what she found, according to Lornett Turnbull of Seattle Times. Most of the material being taught at Cottage Lake Elementary School, 20 miles northeast of Seattle, was severely outdated and contained medically inaccurate information.
One of the school’s videos, nearly two decades old, featured a clip opening with the headline, “Thousands die of AIDS.” The video was produced in the early 1990s, and featured HIV characterized by a growling monster. The Grim Reaper also made an appearance, only to further establish that the lesson being taught was from an era when contracting the virus was seen as a death sentence.
These last-century images and statistics about HIV were extremely troublesome to Howerton, a mother of three, who had adopted a son born with HIV in South Africa just years earlier. She believes that her son Mduduzi, now 8, could be discriminated against and ostracized due to misinformation.
“There was not a word about being born with the virus,” Howerton told Seattle Times. “It was a scary, fear-based video that would teach people how to be afraid of my son.”
The Northshore School District has since halted use of the old material since Howerton raised concerns. The district chose to replace the fifth-grade video with the one used for older students, featuring adults talking to children about HIV. Howerton is still not satisfied.
After working together with the school district, and failing to find appropriate replacement videos in the marketplace, it became clear that appropriate substitutions were still unavailable, and that brand-new materials needed to be created. Eventually, Howerton decided to take her crusade to the State.
Howerton's new campaign, Redefine Positive (which is working in collaboration with Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation), will begin production work on the first two of her four planned videos in November.
The self-employed Howerton has spent the past year working on promotion and fundraising for her video campaign. Estimating it will cost $125,000 to produce all four of the videos, and without money in public school budgets, Howerton turned to the crowd-funding platform IndieGogo. Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation has also launched a fundraiser.
Thirty-three states, including Washington, currently mandate schools teach children about HIV and AIDS. Washington's Legislature passed their law at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1988. Many of the teaching materials still available are so old they don't mention the development of antiretroviral drugs, which control the virus, nor the lowered rates of HIV to AIDS conversions.
According to Redefine's fundraising site, the new videos will feature people from all walks of life living with the disease and will carry current statistics and information about prevention and transmission as well as the need for compassion. All four videos will be disseminated first to all of Washington state's 295 school districts, and then will be made available, free of charge, to schools nationwide.