High school students attend AIDS Vaccine 2010 conference

The AIDS Vaccine 2010 conference welcomed six 10th grade students from the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy in September.   The students and their teachers travelled from Washington, DC to Atlanta, Georgia to attend the conference.  The 10th graders to attend the conference, interact with global health experts and learn about the progress and challenges in developing an HIV vaccine.  

After the conference, the students wrote essays about their experience at the AIDS Vaccine conference.  The essays are posted below.


Essay 1:

My experience at the HIV Vaccine conference in Atlanta was memorable. I had a fun experience getting to know more about my friends. I learned a lot about my roommate Jonathan's personality. It was funny. I learned to never jump into a jacuzzi. I only did this because I've never been in one. But in all seriousness, our trip to Atlanta was not just about having fun. I learned a lot.

I talked to Dr. Amapola Manrique, a modern-day scientist, who is helping researchers to find a way to prevent HIV/AIDS. I learned how scientists work to find a vaccine to prevent HIV and how difficult that research can be. For example, we had a interesting conversation about how scientists run tests on monkeys, and how scientists create new strains of HIV, which are more powerful than the HIV that is found in humans. They do this to find vaccines powerful enough to fight the viruses already out there. All of this happened on the very first night at the Georgia Aquarium at a banquet for scientists from around the globe.

While attending the conference, we went to morning sessions where a person shared their discovery on a cure for HIV/AIDS. On that day, I learned the different ways a person can prevent AIDS, more than just having the occasional vaccine.
I'm thankful for having the opportunity to go to this conference, to go to Atlanta and to see things I never thought I would see. It was an amazing experience to walk in the streets of Atlanta, walk through Olympic Park, go to the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., and pay respect at his memorial, seeing the eternal flame. Going out at nights and eating at different restaurants, passing by the famous West Hotel. But the icing on the cake was having a VIP tour of the CNN newsrooms. It was awesome, and we got to see the newsrooms and see where reporters work and write their stories. The last day of the trip was sad because we were leaving Atlanta! At the end I enjoyed going and having the experience in Atlanta.  

 Essay 2:

The trip to the 2010 AIDS Vaccine conference in Atlanta was a trip of many firsts for me. It was my first time on an airplane, my first time in Atlanta, and, most importantly, my first time at such an important conference. When we got to Atlanta, I was ready to just go to the conference and meet the scientists. I was ready to be in an environment where there was so much learning that it would overwhelm my mind. When we got to the hotel, I think it finally hit everyone that we were really there. Well, at least that’s how I felt. We checked in and got dressed for the dinner at the Georgia Aquarium. I was nervous because this would be my first time meeting some of the many people who got us here. When we got there, we explored the aquarium. We touched stingrays and got up close and personal with penguins. After our exploration we had dinner with Ms. Myra Ozeta and Dr. Amapola Manrique. Ms. Ozeta helped us find people to sponsor our trip. She introduced us to Dr. Manrique, who is a scientist. She told us about the procedures and the risk that come with her job. She answered many of our questions. Personally, she inspired me to make a difference. It made me want to find a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, because it touched me so personally. I live in D.C. where the HIV rates are as high as Africa.

The next day it was time to go to the conference. We registered and went to the session. Walking in, we all felt prepared. What we didn’t know was that we were prepared on a 10th grade level. The terms and concepts were confusing but with the help of our teacher’s notes, we were able to understand the experiments and procedures the scientists had done. I learned that the experiments that scientists do take years to complete. I also learned about the new breakthroughs in vaccines and microbicides. I thought that there was no use in doing research because there was no progress, but being there proved me wrong. The next day, instead of just going to the conference, we went to the morning sessions. I was glad because they introduced us to the things we would be learning that day. We had a speaker come who I enjoyed because she was interactive. I learned a lot because she made things very simple. When we went to the sessions, we learned a lot more even though we still needed our teacher’s notes. We had lunch with some scientists. I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone, and we were being told to just talk to a stranger. I began to talk to a man named Michael. He worked at a clinic in Atlanta, and he and his team have been developing a vaccine for gay men. As we began to talk, my nerves left, and in the end I had a great time at the lunch. At the end of the last session, it was interesting to see where the next conference would be held. At the end of this experience I was proud of all of us because I felt we represented our school, our families and, most importantly, ourselves well. I’m proud that we paved the way for other high school students to have this opportunity and I am thankful to have been able to talk to the scientists. The scientists have inspired me to pursue a career in research.

Essay 3:

The Most Memorable Moments at the AIDS Vaccine 2010 Conference in Atlanta

Atlanta was one of the greatest experiences that has ever happened to me. I loved the experience of being part of HIV/AIDS history and getting to know my classmates better. I stayed in a hotel room with Marc Sibaja and Diante Hill. We lived it up in that room. The time we spent in the hotel was fun and jovial. We learned a lot about each other, and Marc and I have become good friends because of Atlanta. I wouldn't change anything if I could go back to the past. Marc and I became a duo and then triplets when Diante, who was shy at first, started to open up. When he spoke his mind, it was memorable.

Talking to the scientists and to a variety of doctors gave us a chance to learn and speak our minds.  On the second day, we had the opportunity to talk to doctors and scientists over lunch. Marc and I had a conversation with them at the round table about our school, the conference, and their research. They were really down to earth and answered all our questions, even the funny ones, that should have never been asked. It was fun to talk to them. Seeing scientists so passionate about their work and wanting change is something that I loved about being in their presence. I think being in Atlanta brought out the best in me and my peers, and everyone we met as well. Understanding everything about the conference was not my goal. Understanding what I could take with me to help my friends and my peers was my priority. When I spoke to those scientists, I learned a lot about what they can do for us and what I can do with that information to help my peers and my community. The best thing about being a youth is that my peers would rather listen to me than an adult. I can get the message to them about safe sex and abstinence. One scientist from Seattle, Washington told me, “Nothing that I say is pointless; it is to save lives',' and that is also what I believe.  Atlanta was a memorable time. It was an experience that will live with me as I go on to college. You can't help the world without making yourself more informed. That is what this trip has done for me. To learn how to be a leader you have to follow.  I am ready to lead and contribute and fight for a better community. 

Essay 4:

WOW!!! My trip was just amazing. Being the only young people at an AIDS conference was an absolute honor. I was treated like a TRUE scientist. I felt like a true scientist because people let me participate in their conversations, and they gave me the opportunity to talk about what I had learned. They also told me what they had learned and how they felt working in a lab, as well as how it felt to be a scientist and to be working on a project that could make a huge impact on the world. I got the chance to meet people who have been studying AIDS much longer than I have.

I had the opportunity to talk to three real scientists. Their names were Dr. Amapola Manrique, Dr. Nicole Frahm and Dr. Caroline Herrera. These three women taught me so much. They taught us about how scientists are working all around the world, not just in The United States. Another conversation we had was with a few young scientists at a luncheon. At the luncheon I met a young man who studied abroad in Africa. One interesting thing he told me was that sex under the age of 16 is illegal in Africa. He also told me about how he had met a few orphans whose parents had HIV or AIDS and died. As he told me about the trip, I began to feel a sudden sadness for the children who had lost their parents. This story also showed me the importance of how it is urgent to find a vaccine because young ones are losing their parents and loved ones, and they might even have the disease themselves.

On the trip, I learned about how a person can be discriminated against because they have AIDS. I also learned that AIDS is treatable, but it isn’t curable. As of now, scientists are still trying to find a vaccine for AIDS, but it is really difficult because of how fast the virus mutates. I also learned about microbicides. Microbicides are things that help defend a person from the HIV/AIDS virus. Microbicides are better than other forms of contraceptives because it allows women to have a say in how they want to be protected. Before going to the conference I didn’t know anything about microbicides.

Everything I have learned at the conference, I plan to teach my peers. I will teach my peers the importance of safe sex as well as the importance of getting tested on a regular basis. I want to show my peers that just because someone has HIV/AIDS, it doesn’t mean that they are careless. It could just mean that they were unaware or even uneducated about the dangers of not having safe sex. This trip has changed my view on people, and it has changed my views even more about people living with this deadly virus. Before I learned so much about AIDS, I would have been the type to criticize people living with this disease.

I will remember this experience for a long time. It didn’t really change my life goals, but it had a huge impact on my knowledge and my life. My goals are either to be a lawyer or to work in a field that involves forensic science. This conference gave me a lot more hope to pursue my goals. The whole purpose of this conference was to bring scientists together to see if there was hope for finding a cure for AIDS.

I was extremely proud to be part of the only group of teenagers to attend the conference. A real star moment was when Dr. Eric Hunter introduced my peers and me at the banquet. It was a total honor to be introduced to everyone as a young scientist.

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