How Teen PEP Began…
Together, three visionary individuals, Bonnie Parker, the founder and executive director of HiTOPS, Inc. from 1987-2007, Dr. Sharon Rose Powell, the founder and president of the Princeton Center for Leadership Training, Inc. (now known as the Center for Supportive Schools) from 1988-2009, and Fred Vasapolli, a program development specialist with the Division of HIV/AIDS Services at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, conceived of what has become the Teen Prevention Education Program (Teen PEP).
In 1995, Governor Christie Todd Whitman responded to the rising incidence of HIV in New Jersey by creating an annual statewide summit, the World AIDS Day of Learning for New Jersey Youth. This youth summit brought together 500 student leaders to learn HIV prevention strategies that they would take back to their peers in New Jersey schools and communities.
Recognizing that young people needed prevention strategies for an entire range of teen sexual health concerns, Ms. Parker, Dr. Powell, and Mr. Vasapolli combined some of the best concepts from their respective organizations and the field of sexuality education to create Teen PEP.
Melding Successful Concepts
HiTOPS Adolescent Health and Education Center
When Governor Whitman announced her commitment to developing an innovative HIV prevention initiative, HiTOPS, Inc. was already delivering workshops to youth on variety of sexual health topics through its successful Teen Council program. The HiTOPS Teen Council is a community-based peer education program which provides comprehensive sexuality education to youth by training high school seniors to conduct workshops with their peers.
Center for Supportive Schools
At the same time, the Center for Supportive Schools (known then as the Princeton Center for Leadership Training) was disseminating a successful in-school peer leadership program, Peer Group Connection (PGC). Peer leaders participated in a daily leadership course in order to provide support to freshman students during their transition to high school. CSS was working with school administrators and faculty throughout the Northeast to replicate PGC in their schools, and prepare for long-term sustainability.
Fred Vasapolli, from the Division of HIV/AIDS Services was the catalyst for HiTOPS and CSS to partner. Through this partnership, HiTOPS' comprehensive sexual health curriculum was linked to CSS's leadership development model to produce the Teen PEP program that has been replicated in more than 60 high schools and community-based organizations.
The Ongoing Collaboration
HiTOPS, Inc., the Center for Supportive Schools, and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services have continued to collaborate since 1995 to create, disseminate, refine, and evaluate Teen PEP. The model has expanded beyond New Jersey and has been successfully implemented in North Carolina.
HiTOPS continues to bring to the collaboration its expertise in sexuality education and adolescent sexuality issues, and employs staff from varied backgrounds including nursing, public health, human sexuality education, health education, and human development.
CSS continues to bring to the collaboration its expertise in leadership development and K-12 education, with staff who have backgrounds in school psychology, education, prevention programming, public health, school counseling, and program evaluation.
The New Jersey Department of Health provides advice and funding support and informs the strategic direction of the program.