Students from J.W. Stampley 9th Grade Academy Create School Health Council to Address Health Issues Impacting Their Peers

Throughout the past decade, the Mississippi State Legislature passed a number of bills aimed at creating healthier school environments for Mississippi youth. Included in the school health wellness laws is a mandate for each school to have an active school health council (SHC), a diverse group of stakeholders (students, teachers, school staff, parents) who meet regularly to discuss the health of students. Despite the mandate, many schools do not have active health councils, and of those that do, few have youth representation. Because young people spend so much of their time in school, SHCs have the potential to make a major impact on student health and wellness. As part of the New Pathways to Health program, we want to strengthen SHCs and empower youth to really drive the work of their local councils.

Workshop participants draw maps of their school and the surrounding area to help understand environmental factors impacting student health. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

Workshop participants, led by facilitator Sarah Gayden Harris, draw maps of their school and the surrounding area to help understand environmental factors impacting student health. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

On November 16th, 24 students from J.W. Stampley 9th Grade Academy in Clarksdale, MS came together for a workshop to help create a SHC for the newly opened school, and to develop project ideas for the council to implement throughout the school year. The students worked in teams to explore school health through Problem Solving for Better Health (PSBH)â, a process developed by the Dreyfus Health Foundation of the Rogosin Institute that leads participants through a series of activities to understand health problems impacting their communities (or in this case, their school) and develop projects to address the identified issues. Throughout the day, a group of facilitators from the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies, the Tri-County Workforce Alliance, Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center, Inc., and Dreyfus/Rogosin worked with student teams in large and small groups to understand contributing factors to both good health and poor health of students at their school. Once they had a better grasp of the issues they wanted to address, each team wrote an action plan to be implemented by the health council over the coming months.

Students discuss health issues impacting their community. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

Students discuss health issues impacting their community with facilitator Lynn Woo. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

During the PSBH workshop, students were encouraged to think about school health as if they were doctors or nurses diagnosing health conditions; their school was their patient. They completed school health record forms, wrote a prescription for a project that could ameliorate health concerns, and then they wrote action plans to fill the prescriptions. Through the development of the school health records, workshop participants named a number of problems impacting their community and their fellow students, including: obesity, diabetes, bullying, sexually transmitted infections, drug abuse, stress, high dropout rates, lack of physical activity, teen pregnancy, asthma, and gang violence.  In order to address some of these issues, student teams came up with the following project ideas:

  • Hosting monthly activities at the school, such as speakers and cultural events to encourage students to stay in school;
  • Developing an awareness campaign about nutrition, physical fitness, and bullying prevention;
  • Hosting motivational speakers who will talk with students about stress reduction;
  • Running a field day at a local community park in the spring with a balloon release event to promote physical fitness and discuss problems related to drug and alcohol abuse; and
  • Creating and implementing educational workshops about sexual health and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

    Facilitator (and ICBR Research Fellow) Eleanor Green leads a group of students through a discussion about health conditions impacting their community, as well as resources and programs to improve health in Clarksdale. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

    Eleanor Green leads students through a discussion about resources and programs that are working to improve health in Clarksdale. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

All too often, adults make choices about kids health, food, education, and lives without any consultation from kids themselves. However, young people have a lot of great ideas, especially about the best ways to promote positive behaviors among their peers. It’s been a long time since any of us workshop facilitators have been in high school, and things that encouraged our peers to make healthy choices or ways that we communicated have changed quite a bit. So, who better to come up with ideas and implement projects for a school health council then the students themselves?

Josephine Rhymes, director of the Tri-County Workforce Alliance,  engages students in a discussion about school health. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

Josephine Rhymes, director of the Tri-County Workforce Alliance, engages students in a discussion about school health. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

Students left the November workshop feeling energized and excited to get started on their projects. They created action plans with lists of tasks to complete by certain dates, resources they had available to them, and things they would need help with in order to make these projects successful. This group is the first of hopefully many student driven youth health councils in the Delta (the students were so excited that they were the first youth run SHC in the state that they discussed sending a letter to President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to tell them about their work). As part of the New Pathways to Health program, SHCs will be developed and supported throughout the five-county service area (Bolivar, Coahoma, Quitman, Sunflower, and Tallahatchie). Based on the work accomplished by the group from J.W. Stampley Academy in one day, we expect to see great things coming from SHCs in the Delta. Tune back into the blog throughout the upcoming year to learn about the progress this group is making!

Workshops facilitators were excited about the work the students accomplished in one day. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

Workshops facilitators were excited about the work the students accomplished in one day. Photo by Emma Willoughby.

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