Teen Health Week at U-32: Student Involvement in Health & Wellness
Written by Meaghan Falby & Alison Gauthier
Vermont’s Act 77 encompasses three pillars to support 21st century learners: Proficiency-Based Learning and Assessment,Personalization/Flexible Pathways, and Personalized Learning Plans. As schools across Vermont work to effectively and sustainably implement Act 77, there are many questions that come to mind. Are we offering learners flexible pathways to achieve their personal goals? How can students pursue their interests, while, at the same time, show proficiency of district-chosen standards and skills? How can we provide authentic audiences so that students can share their learning with other peers and trusted adults?
In an attempt to make progress on these questions we are grappling with, faculty, staff, and students at U-32 organized Teen Health Week this past spring. Meaghan Falby, a High School Health and Family Consumer Science teacher at U-32, first learned about National Teen Health Week from a Twitter post (@RTwithDrOffutt) by Dr. Offutt, a physician and teen health advocate in Philadelphia. National Teen Health Week originated in Pennsylvania and was the first statewide initiative in the US focused around the health and wellness of adolescents. More information about National Teen Health Week can be found here.
Meaghan Falby emailed the faculty and staff at U-32 to see if there was interest from adults in conducting a Teen Health Week at U-32. She also connected with student leaders – those actively involved in Seeking Social Justice and Green Team, two clubs that meet weekly at school. It was clear in the meeting shortly following that email that there was INTEREST from faculty and staff – as well as a great NEED for this type of work at U-32. High School students at U-32 are currently required to take one semester of Health between grades 9 and 12. Revisiting what was learned during Health class, and being exposed to updated information related to Teen Health and Wellness, was expressed as a priority.
At the meeting in Meaghan’s room, it was decided that each day would have a certain focus. Sexual Health on Monday, Physical Health on Tuesday, Environmental Health on Wednesday, Substance Abuse on Thursday, and Mental & Emotional Health on Friday. This follows the National Teen Health Week recommendations that Meaghan has received from Dr. Offutt. Community partners were called and asked to come in and host a table during one day’s lunch block or during callback (30 minutes during the day when students can work specifically with one teacher for additional support).
Here are the schedules (At-A-Glance and more detailed) that were used for the activities for the week. During the Teen Health Week, there was excitement in the school. Students went to various callback opportunities for the week; ranging from a Faculty-Student volleyball game for Physical Health Day to an Environmental Health presentation about Climate Change by Green Team high school students. Tabling in the atrium space during lunch was successful as well - a diverse group of presenters was there to answer questions that students had. Students learned from fellow peers when Anatomy & Physiology students presented a wide variety of information during the lunch bands for that week.
Among the diverse group of presenters in the atrium during the lunch band was Outright VT. This non-profit organization’s mission is to build safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth ages 13-22 (Outright Website). Outright Vermont (@outrightvermont) shared information with Middle and High School students and answered questions posed by students. They shared pamphlets and information related to healthy relationships and offered ideas for how to get more involved in Teen Health events happening around the state.
Another lunch band presenter was the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management (CVSWM). A staff member from CVSWM and student-leaders from the Green Team hosted a table in the atrium to share the recent findings from the U-32 trash audit. The audit happened several weeks before Teen Health Week, and this was a fitting venue for the Green Team to share their findings and make recommendations to the U-32 community moving forward.
Following the Teen Health Week, Meaghan emailed a Google Form for feedback to faculty, staff, and students. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive - this was awesome and we need to do more of this. One student stated that, “This was an awesome event, I heard from many people that they participated and enjoyed the callback activities, and I enjoyed them as well”. Another student commented in the Google Form that, “I honestly can't think of anything that [was] missed this year; all of the topics were very well represented through tabling and special callbacks and I really liked the way this event connected all different parts of our school under a bigger topic of health”. In terms of faculty/staff and student attendance of the events during the week, here were the responses:
Faculty & Staff Response
In response to that feedback from students and adults alike, Meaghan teamed up with faculty in the building to provide two other Health opportunities for students. Callbacks on May 4th and May 18th have been set up that offer a wide range of Health and Wellness opportunities for adolescents. Students can self-select to attend one of these Friday callback events, or choose to attend a callback with a teacher for regular academic support. Callback opportunities on these two days include activities such as Collage Creations (for Emotional & Mental Health), Female Sexual Health Sesh, Disc Golf, Lawn Games, and Self-Defense.
An area for growth for next year is involving students more in the beginning-to-end process. Students are asking for these types of discussions to happen with adults that they trust (particularly related to Substance Abuse and Sexual Health). The momentum is building and the interest is present. In our efforts towards personalization and flexible pathways, it is clear that students have a voice and want to be heard. From asking questions of community members during lunch bands to presenting about their interests during a callback session, students want an active role in their health and wellness. The next step will be involving more students in the process so that peer teaching and peer collaboration can be expanded.
Meaghan Falby teaches Health and Living Arts at U-32 Middle High School. Prior to U-32, Meaghan taught in the Barre Town and Barre City School District as the Middle School Family & Consumer Sciences and Health Educator. Meaghan’s teaching philosophy is “Healthy Students = Healthy Learners.” Follow Meaghan on Twitter @meg_falby or on Instagram at u32Health and u32Livingarts.
Alison Gauthier is a 2006 U-32 alumna. She teaches 9th grade Earth Science/Physics, 10th grade Biology, and junior-senior Anatomy & Physiology at U-32 Middle High School. Alison’s teaching philosophy is that “when students are doing the work, students are doing the learning”. Alison is an advocate for PLPs, student-negotiated curriculum, and proactive RP circles. Starting this fall, Alison will be teaching Sophomore Biology at CISQD in Qingdao, China. *Sharing is Caring* Here are Alison’s class sites: 9th grade Science 10th grade Biology Anatomy & Physiology