COLUMBIA — Nearly a dozen eighth- and ninth-graders sat in a circle Saturday afternoon, shifting in their seats. Each one held an instrument in their hands, looking to their peers for social cues.
Some threw themselves into the music completely, banging their drums and shaking tambourines to their own beats.
From focus groups surveyed in fall of 2010, the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services released an assessment on the health needs of area adolescents.
Others scanned the room nervously, unsure whether to fully join in or not.
The difference in how these teens behaved was to be expected. They all were smack in the middle of their teen years, drumming and playing percussion instruments in an effort to improve communication skills and build a sense of community in the group.
The drum circle, which included a range of other percussion instruments, was one of several sessions during Saturday's "The Scoop" event, held at the Moberly Area Community College campus at the Parkade Center.
Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, Youth Community Coalition, and other area health partners sponsored the event to reach out to eighth- and ninth-graders about their health habits as well as thinking independently.
The musical exercise with Sally Burnley, a drum circle facilitator, had the teens and volunteers play different instruments to their own beats.
"It teaches them how to listen so that they can add in with their own beat. It’s mostly to help support them — they can be part of a crowd, they can be quiet, they can be loud ... they can be part of a community," Burnley said.
Topics were based on findings from an assessment that students in Columbia have a difficult time making healthy choices. Topics included nutrition, physical activity, relationships and sleep, with breakout sessions from MU students and area health services.
The assessment was conducted in the fall of 2010 by Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services. Data was taken from wellness surveys given to Rock Bridge and Hickman High School students in 2009, as well as from focus groups, according to the Columbia/Boone County Adolescent Health Needs Assessment, available online through the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
"They told us about peer pressure related to alcohol and drugs, the stress of school, and that they needed more messages on how to live healthy lifestyles," said Maureen Coy, a health educator from the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Coy said they included input from professionals who said that kids also have difficulty finding a trusted adult to talk to, or didn’t know how to identify a trusted adult at all.
The event began with keynote speaker Kam Phillips, MU student, 2011 MTV Top of the Class Winner and founder of Dream Outside the Box, an MU organization that reaches out to minority and underprivileged children.
Phillips spoke about being tobacco, drug and alcohol-free during her high school years, prompting teens to examine their own health choices.
Throughout the afternoon, the 11 teen participantscycled through classrooms for role-playing and discussions about respect, responsibility and relationships, a presentation from the Troubling Violence Performance Project, another from MU Active Minds, and a session on nutrition, sleep and physical activity.
While the program’s participation numbers were low, Coy said those who did attend seemed to enjoy the event. To promote participation, area junior high schools distributed cards to students, and health teachers awarded extra credit to students who attended.
Jack McNellis, 13, attended with his sister, and his mother volunteered at the event. He said he learned a lot about nutrition and getting enough sleep, and the event made him think about peer pressure.
His mother, Yvette, encouraged her two children to attend because she knew that the presentations would be given by college-aged individuals.
"I thought that they would give a different perspective on how to make good choices, and how to communicate," she said.
Coy echoed McNellis’ sentiments. She said it was a main component in choosing speakers for the event.
"The kids like that best — hearing health messages and relationship messages from people a bit older than them, not quite in the profession, not a teacher," Coy said.
Kelsey Davis, a nutrition and fitness intern with the health department, was one such presenter. She and Jan Heumann spoke about the importance of a balanced diet in conjunction with getting the recommend eight hours of sleep, as well as physical activity.
Their presentation ended with asking students what barriers prevented them from making healthy choices, and a group brainstorming session on solutions to these barriers.
Davis spoke to the importance of programs such as this, which target adolescents in the community.
"They’re in a really transitive stage in their life, so it’s good to feed them as many health messages as you can possibly get them to take in," she said. "Hopefully they’ll retain at least a little of it when they enter high school next year and make decisions on their own."