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Planting the seed: Teens become advocates

High school student coursework encourages healthier, active lifestyles
Thursday, November 10, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:05 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 10, 2011

OBESITY IN ADOLESCENTS ACROSS RACE AND ETHNICITY IN THE U.S.

COLUMBIA — This summer, Nakita Cade, 17, took a picture of a bag of spicy cheese mix and a bottle of apple juice because that's what her friend called a healthy lunch.

"I understood, but at the same time I thought it was crazy she was only eating a small bag of cheese mix and a small thing of apple juice," Cade said.

Cade was one of 15 students, ages 12 to 18,  who completed a Photovoice project that was unveiled during a July board of health meeting. Students were asked to take pictures of examples of healthy living, as well as of things they'd like to see change. Then each student picked the photo he or she felt strongest about for a display planned for Rock Bridge High School.

"What I enjoyed was that we didn't dictate to the kids what they should take photos of," Sam Robinson, director of Healthy Community Initiatives, said. "One young lady, she had a picture of a Phillies Blunt. That's how she feels about her environment. That's unhealthy to her."

The photo project was part of PedNet's EmpowerME4Change curriculum, an eight-week program that taught students lessons about food systems, where food comes from and exercise, said Shannon Robinson, co-chair of the youth advocacy team.

Students are now working to form clubs based on the same curriculum at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, Robinson said.

  • At Hickman, Cade and her friends wrote a petition to show how many students and teachers were interested in the club and presented it during homecoming.
  • At Rock Bridge, Shivangi Singh, 16, is trying to find a sponsor to serve as the club's adviser. She's also working to tweak some of the lessons to make them age appropriate, since the original curriculum was geared toward both younger and older students.

Members of these clubs would be held to the same commitments as the students who finished the curriculum — they could only drink 100 percent fruit juice, water or skim milk; they had to eat fruits or vegetables with each meal; they had to get nine hours of sleep a night; they had to exercise for an hour a day; and they could have only one to two hours of screen time a day.

The coursework for the club is designed to teach students how to advocate for change if they see something in the community they don't like and provide them with opportunities to articulate what they do like, Shannon Robinson said.

To help students be better received if they decide to attend public meetings, Sam Robinson and his staff are creating a toolkit to teach students how to use Robert's Rules of Order.

"We have a demographic of kids that, for whatever reason, adults might not feel that they're assets, but to the contrary, we realize that they are assets, and our job is just to support them and empower them to be advocates for themselves," Sam Robinson said.

The prospect of empowerment drew Singh to EmpowerME4Change. 

"What I saw in that program that I don't see in a lot of other programs is the chance for advocacy," she said. "It puts us on a platform so that we are heard."

Next page | Chicago, Fresno promote selection of healthy alternatives

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