issue Winter 2022

Straight Talk

By Yadira Sanchez Olson
Lisandra Ochoa, MS ’17, CMS ’22, connects with fellow Latinx community members on birth control.
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

As someone who loves teaching, Lisandra Ochoa, MS ’17, CMS ’22, is getting a pulse on the community and using her ethnicity and bilingualism to educate Latinx youth on topics related to health.

Ms. Ochoa brainstormed with her mentor, Hector Rasgado-Flores, PhD — director of diversity, outreach and success and professor of physiology and biophysics — on a community project required for receiving a scholarship, and they decided on a safe-sex and birth-control presentation for students.

The project, titled “Reducing Teen Pregnancy Among Teens of Round Lake School District,” came out of Ms. Ochoa’s research of Lake County Health Department records that pointed to the Round Lake region as having one of the highest rates of Latinx teen pregnancies in northeastern Illinois. A medical student working toward becoming a pediatrician, Ms. Ochoa created a PowerPoint presentation that included anime art created by her fiancé to engage and connect with the middle school through high school students in the district, who were majority Latinx.

During the hourlong event via Zoom in May 2021, Ms. Ochoa taught the students the types of birth control available and about sexually transmitted infections and diseases. She said the participants were genuine with their questions.

“The message most kids grow up with in Latinx homes is, ‘Don’t have sex until you’re married,’” Ms. Ochoa said. If they decide to be sexually active, she added, they’ll need to know what health options are available to prevent pregnancy. Round Lake High School senior Perla Arias said she appreciated the opportunity to learn from Ms. Ochoa and identified with her. The Latinx teen is president of the school’s Future Medical Panthers Club — a group of middle and high school students with an interest in medical careers that took part in the lecture along with the high school’s Latino Club.

“ Ms. Ochoa is a remarkable student who has been an extremely engaged peer tutor for a large number of underrepresented medical students.”

Ms. Ochoa also shared information about herself and the medical field, telling the students that growing up, she saw her family suffer disproportionately due to language and cultural barriers to health care.

My grandparents never had a physician who spoke their language and understood their culture. At 8 years old, I was the only interpreter for their doctor appointments,” Ms. Ochoa said. “On many occasions, I struggled to find the right words.”

Experiences like that are why she’s passionate about supporting and encouraging Latinx students with a goal of becoming physicians, who are especially needed in marginalized communities.

“Being able to connect with a presenter who has had similar experiences like myself does not happen often, so I am very grateful she was able to share her story,” Ms. Arias said. 

Although Ms. Ochoa completed her project, she has decided to continue presenting to Round Lake students in the coming academic year and is working with school officials to reach as many as possible.

That doesn’t surprise Dr. Rasgado-Flores.

“Ms. Ochoa is a remarkable student who has been an extremely engaged peer tutor for a large number of underrepresented medical students,” Dr. Rasgado-Flores said. “These students report that interacting with Ms. Ochoa has been of critical help to succeed academically.”

Round Lake High School Racial/Ethnic Diversity 2020

  • 77.7% Hispanic
  • 12.1% White
  • 6.8% Black
  • 2.1% Two or More Races
  • .8% Asian
  • .5% American Indian

Source: Illinois Report Card 2019-20

Birth Rates by Zip Code per 1,000 Adolescents

National Rate - 31.3

  • 60073 Round Lake - 42.9
  • 60087 Waukegan - 52.7
  • 60085 Waukegan - 52.5
  • 60064 North Chicago - 48.3
  • 60099 Zion - 35.1

Source: Live Well Lake County Community Health Assessment 2016-21 

2019 National Birth Rates per 1,000 Adolescents

  • 25.3 Hispanic
  • 25.8 Non-Hispanic Black
  • 11.4 Non-Hispanic White

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — About Teen Pregnancy

Yadira Sanchez Olson is a Lake County-based freelance writer who has written extensively about the Latinx community.