February 25, 2016

Coalitions in Action: Youth Express Themselves and Educate Others in Performance

The Teen Health Connection coalition in Charlotte, NC, are setting the stage for substance abuse prevention messages in their hour-long theatrical performance called “The Big Picture.” The show makes its 2016 debut April 18th.

The Big Picture” is a dynamic health education and community outreach initiative that is solely written and performed by and for adolescent youth. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey, this youth initiative addresses the current trends and health related issues facing teenagers today, with a focus on positive behavioral and health choices,” said Rett Liles, the coalition’s director.

The show features a series of vignettes written for teens and by teens from their city’s public arts high school. Using dance, spoken word and drama, ninth grade students and parents who comprise the audience see dramatizations covering topics ranging from underage drinking, to prescription drug abuse, bullying, nutrition, and tobacco use.

Because of the play’s success during the past five years, coalition members Liles, and her colleagues Kate Hogan and Amber Jones are sort of a “triple threat” to health education in Charlotte.

The week of April 18th is chosen to encompass April 20th, which is the unofficial “420” marijuana smokers’ holiday. Marijuana’s harm is showcased in the play. In addition to the play, other associated events will occur. Its Youth Drug Free Coalition Teen Advisory Board’s Photovoice Project highlighting risk and protective factors for substance abuse prevention will be on display. And the coalition will hold a substance abuse prevention conference for medical clinicians, psychologists, social workers and all professionals who work with teens. 

“The Big Picture” was presented at a poster session at CADCA’s recent National Leadership Forum. Their poster, presented at an Ideas Fair booth with dozens of others, “The Big Picture of Prevention: Enhancing Youth-led Messaging through Innovative Mediums,” was voted by fellow attendees to be the People’s Choice Award winner.

The coalition encourages that the conversation is continued following “The Big Picture” in a variety of ways.

“Parents tell us that the skits bring up a talking/teachable moment, a conversation starter with their children,” Hogan said.

Jones said that the coalition also provides a curriculum that they develop reinforcing concepts from “The Big Picture” for health teachers.

“This play opens up the lines for a real, relatable conversations between parents and teens and teachers and teens,” she said

A texting campaign is also used to reinforce provocative messaging introduced during the play.

Teen Health Connection works out of a healthcare practice that provides medical and mental healthcare and prevention and health education services for young people ages 11 to 22.

“One of the reasons why our coalition has been successful is that we also have amazing partnerships with the school district, and we have for a long time, Liles said. “We also use the play as a leverage tool to strengthen school policies.” 

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