The Arlington, Va. based coalition built a Mythbusters program for eighth graders as they near their transition to high school. The purpose – to “bust the myths” of high school by having a panel of current high schoolers answer questions and lead discussions. In every session, issues such as drugs, alcohol and parties are addressed to ensure that all students know that they don’t need to worry about succumbing to peer pressure and that they do have a choice in their decisions.
“The authentic engagement of youth is the key piece of the puzzle in ensuring that you are understanding your particular youth population, providing the correct message/messaging and giving a true voice,” said Siobhan Grayson, Youth Outreach Coordinator at The Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families.
In the program, eighth grade students in middle school health classes write down any questions they have on notecards. High schoolers on a panel answer all questions, engaging with the youth to help reduce the stress of going from middle to high school.
In 2016, the Arlington school system was ranked the number one school system in Virginia, composed of an ethnically diverse student population representing 115 countries and 44 languages. The coalition serves 215,000 people in 26 square miles.
In addition, the coalition began the Care for a Change initiative, which supports the Annual Random Acts of Kindness campaign. Through action in local high schools, coalition members promote activities throughout the year to spread kindness and strengthen peer-to-peer relationships. By giving out cookies, candy, kind notes and other activities, the coalition encourages healthy and kind relationships between peers during a pivotal time of growth and development.
Recent surveys show that two-thirds of teens in the community don’t use drugs or alcohol. The coalition has also seen an increase in teens wanting to be involved in the organization from the low teens six years ago to a roster of 60 members today. The coalition is called upon to provide information to the county and school boards about the needs of the youth in the community and awareness in how to be a healthy and safe community for the youth.
“The most important thanks goes to our volunteers, our 60 Teen Network Board members, our partner organizations, and teens around the community who all volunteer to help make sure that we can complete our projects successfully,” said Grayson. “In addition, the strong support of our middle and high school students has helped make sure that we can accomplish as much as we have in our community.”