WASHINGTON -- A group of Baltimore County high school students got a lesson in lobbying yesterday on a visit to Washington, where they delivered an appeal for continued funding of AIDS research.
The six teens are members of Student AIDS Advisory of Baltimore County, an umbrella group for the Stopping Aids For Everyone (SAFE) clubs at 10 county high schools.
Accompanied by Dr. Michelle A. Leverett, director of the county health department, the group met with Patricia Fleming, who is director of AIDS Policy for President Clinton.
"We wanted to tell [Ms. Fleming] to keep on fighting and keep educating," said laToyia Harris, 16, a junior at Towson High School. "We wanted to tell her that she has our support and we hope we have hers."
The meeting came on the morning that Capitol Hill was abuzz with debate over a provision in a Defense Department reauthorization bill calling for the discharge of HIV-infected military personnel.
Wearing colorful pins that read, "Stop Aids from Spreading," the students briefed Ms. Fleming on their organization and the SAFE clubs aimed at educating young people about acquired immune deficiency syndrome and stopping the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
Ms. Fleming praised the students for their initiative and questioned them about the availability of sex education and AIDS information in county schools.
"Peer education has been proven to be effective," she said. "It's so rare that you get the opportunity at your age to do something so significant."
Ms. Fleming said she has been speaking with young people for a report she is preparing for the president on HIV and adolescents.
Among the facts she told the group yesterday was that half of all HIV infections reported last year affected people under 25 -- and a quarter of that group were people younger than 20.
The group presented Ms. Fleming with a scroll containing more than 150 signatures and messages from students calling for continued funding for AIDS research.
They also gave the director a packet of information on the students' efforts.
Beverly Funkhouser, 16, a junior from Towson High, said the advisory group she heads was formed six months ago to tie together the 10 county health department-sponsored SAFE clubs.
"We saw the statistics hitting our age group, and we decided to take action," said Towson classmate Alison Slavik, the advisory organization's vice president.