Catapult Into IWES' New, Innovative Sexual Health Education Program & Research Study


As 2018 wound down, our most recent sex education initiative ramped up. Since last November, 237 young adolescents have been enrolled into seven cycles of Catapult in schools across New Orleans. What’s Catapult, you may ask? To answer that question, we have to start with the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS).

The Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) is a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and the World Health Organization. This international project aims to understand the factors in early adolescence that make a young person more likely to engage in risky sexual health behaviors while it simultaneously promotes healthy sexuality. IWES is proud to host the only site in North America, joining peers in nine countries around the world. What’s more, we are one of the few sites utilizing both a gender-transformative and trauma-informed framework in our curriculum. Still not sure how we got to Catapult? We chose this name for our local implementation of the GEAS to align with the recent relaunch of our youth-focused social media channels (find us at @catapult_iwes), which center around the impact of thoughts on feelings and actions to promote positive youth development.

Equal parts exciting and shocking, young people's voices and experiences with relationships, puberty, healthy behaviors, bullying, violence, mental health and gender attitudes have not been elevated on this scope or scale in over 20 years, when the Add (Adolescent to Adult) Health Study was initiated. Between 1994 and 1995, Add Health posed a set of questions to American students in grades 7-12, with the hopes of returning to speak to them in adulthood. While researchers successfully reconnected with 88% of those students initially surveyed in 2008, an overwhelming amount of the findings published have been correlations found about these young people’s circumstances, rather than lessons learned from their own voices. Flawed as the findings may be, since Add Health, no such study has attempted to lift up young people’s voices on the issues that most inform their growth as teens, nor health as adults, on this scale.

While IWES continues to teach the next generation of New Orleanians knowledge and skills that will help them live their most healthy lives, the students, in turn, have a chance to teach the world about what it means to move through modern times as a young teen. Catapult participants are able to provide this insight into their realities over a long period of time because the study will stay in touch with each of our youth participants for three years, devoting special attention to how their experiences change.

With over 230 students already participating at four local middle schools, the Catapult team has found both our momentum and our stride. We are in conversations with 3 more sites at present, and are ready to launch our next round of evaluation and health education before Mardi Gras. We also plan to launch more cycles later in the Spring semester. In that vein, Catapult is still accepting school partners for both Spring and Fall 2019. Please contact Gabrielle Freels at or (504) 599-7712 to schedule a meeting to learn more.

Iman ShervingtonComment