Chicago is No. 1 in a horrifying statistic: Our young people have the highest rate of Gonorrhea in the country.
Teenagers are learning hard lessons about unprotected sex. Critics say they should be better protected by education - schools should be teaching about reading, writing and risk.
"I didn't learn anything," one young woman explained. "I didn't learn anything about sex - not from the staff, not from the teachers.”
She doesn't want to be identified, so FOX Chicago called her Joanne. She’s a 20 year old with two children. She had her first baby when she was just 14.
Two years later, Joanne had to learn what Chlamydia is – the hard way. She had never been taught about the sexually transmitted disease, and she was very, very mad about it.
Joanne was also mad at the boy who gave it to her. But he didn’t know about Chlamydia either.
Critics argue this is why Chicago ranks No. 2 in the nation for rates of Chlamydia among 15 to 19-year-olds.
"Every time I give a presentation I give the stats, folks are blown away, and they're appalled, and they should be,” Chicago Public Schools’ Ira Rounsaville said. “The rates of infection among this age group are astronomical.”
Rounsaville is the HIV prevention specialist for CPS. He and one staff member coordinate sex education for the entire district - obviously, help wanted.
“Somebody that watched the video maybe saw that, oh that's me,” Dunbar High School student Brittany Hardaway said. “I need to change my ways, I need to go get help.”
Getting teenagers to spread the word themselves is the idea behind a Walgreens sponsored contest. 2011 is the fifth year of the Expressions Challenge.
This student team from Dunbar High School won the $2,000 prize last year for their video encouraging teens to get help if they are HIV positive.
“Their peers are teens, so they listen to their peers more than they listen to their parents or adults,” Dunbar student Kira Bowman said. “So it's a better outlook when a teen is addressing the situation.”
The retailer stepped up the prize money and the marketing this year. Stepping into the arena of sex education takes some corporate courage.
“There's no corporate backing, so to speak, to really catapult conversation about sexual responsibility. Walgreens recognized the need,” Goldstar Communications (Walgreens) representative Matina Smith said. “We've reached out to many of our key academic partners.”
“I applaud corporate sponsors who are doing this and we need more of them,” University of Chicago researcher Dexter Voisin said.
Voisin said children are suffering while adults argue politics or morality.
“We have all these issues around sexuality, but the reality is we have to protect our youth,” Voisin said. “When you look at countries like Denmark and other European countries, they have a fraction of the STI (sexually transmitted infection) cases we have in the United States.”
Fueled by the staggering statistics here, CPS now has clinics adjacent to several high schools.
“We offer testing as well for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia in the high schools we've been doing that,” Rounsaville said. “This is our third year.”
Programs like the Walgreens Expressions Challenge are getting more official support and expanding.
The comprehensive sexual health education policy the school board adopted three years ago calls for every student to get 675 minutes of sex-ed by the 5th grade. But it's an expectation - not a mandate.
“I think we should change that,” Rounsaville said. “It's important for kids to have the education and to make better choices.”
Joanne learned quite a bit more in CPS sex-ed than she knew before.
“All about STD’s, HIV, AIDS, pregnancy prevention, places to get help, self esteem,” Joanne said. “Everything that a woman needs to grow and learn."