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Mom with HIV-positive son working to update school’s AIDS curriculum

WOODINVILLE — Jodie Howerton and her husband Mike are the proud parents of three kids. Their youngest, 8-year-old Duzi, was adopted from South Africa in 2010.

“If you saw him on the street, you would never know he had HIV,” Howerton said. “I want all the kids in this community learning the right things about HIV so they’re not afraid of him and he doesn’t have to live his life feeling like other people are scared.”

All students in Washington state are required to learn about HIV and AIDS in fifth grade. Two years ago, Howerton was invited by the Northshore District to take a look at a video her daughter would see that year in class.

“When the video started, it had a newspaper article and it zoomed in and the headline was ‘Thousands die of AIDS’.  There was this sort of very grim music playing,” she said.

Howerton said the video featured a red monster representing the HIV virus and the Grim Reaper. After complaining about the outdated video to the district, Howerton was pleased to hear they also were interested in updating their curriculum.

She is now partnering with them, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create new videos for schools to use statewide. It’s a move Randall Russell, CEO of the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, applauds.

“The original videos talked about HIV in ways that were scare tactics because they wanted people to be aware that this was a deadly disease and it was in the mid-’80s. Well, this is 30 years later,” Russell said. “I think it’s remarkable what the family has done. I really appreciate her charge and draft of thinking about this issue in a way that de-stigmatizes it by making it public.”

Production on the new videos starts in November. The goal is to raise $150,000 to create four age-appropriate videos for 5th, 6th and 9-12th graders to see in their classes next fall. Howerton has started a fundraising campaign and so far has raised $19,000.

In related news, the Lifelong AIDS Alliance hold its annual Community AIDS Walk Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at Volunteer Park.

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