The topic was AIDS. And nearly 100 student leaders from Baltimore County's 24 high schools were called upon to return to their classes as teachers -- peer educators, credible sources of information speaking a language their friends can understood.
"The pressures on these young adults to grow up fast -- with the responsibilities and consequences -- are tremendous," said Dr. Randy Berger, director of the county Health Department's Division of AIDS Services, at the daylong seminar at a Holiday Inn in Timonium.
"What we hope to do is get these students to return to their high schools and develop workshops and publish newsletters about AIDS and the risks involved," she said.
The new approach to high school students -- 50 percent of whom are estimated to be sexually active -- comes at a time when HIV and AIDS-related deaths are rising nationally for young Americans.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that AIDS is the leading cause of death for men 25 to 44 years old in U.S. cities, and is a growing killer of women in the same age group. Because it often takes up to 10 years for people with an HIV infection to develop AIDS, doctors say it's likely that many people who develop AIDS in their 20s were infected in their teens.
Dr. Berger said there are 464 known AIDS cases in Baltimore County, and 17 percent of those are in the 20-to-29 age group. Overall, she said, 63 percent of AIDS- infected patients are homosexual and 21 percent are intravenous drug users.
"We will go back and attempt to open a dialogue, get other kids more aware of the dangers," said Michell Freshour, 17, a senior at Lansdowne High School.
A guest speaker, a dark-haired, 29-year-old woman known as Laurie, brought AIDS into human focus.
"I was running away from a bad marriage, living in Norfolk, Va., when I struck up a relationship with a man while working as a waitress," said Laurie, a native of Southern Maryland. "We had unsafe sex, and he told me afterward that he was probably HIV-positive."
Laurie now speaks to high school groups and counsels National Basketball Association players and their wives and girlfriends. She said that she went through the gamut of emotions -- including denial and anger.
"I hope I can make a difference," she said. "I hope these beautiful young people -- with all the built-in problems of growing up -- will go back to their friends and talk about me."