Seven students involved in UP for Learning’s Getting to “Y” (GTY) program at Newfound Regional High School in Bristol, NH recorded testimony about their work examining the results of their school’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data this year. The creation of the video was in response to a recent bill in the New Hampshire state senate proposing that this survey, and others, be considered “opt in,” requiring parents to give consent for their children to take part. The group, one of the first-ever New Hampshire GTY teams, was planning to testify at a hearing in April, when the Senate Education Committee took up the bill, but their school had a two hour weather delay and they were unable to make the trip. Instead, they recorded this powerful video, which provides insight into their process, and advocates for the survey to remain “opt-out,” encouraging as many students as possible to take it. Requiring parental consent, they stated, would reduce the number of youth who participate in the survey, and would therefore not provide a full picture of the health and behavior of students in New Hampshire middle and high schools. It would also have a significant impact on funding, as the survey results are used to establish the need for financial support in the areas of mental health, safety, and prevention.
One of the students remarked, “The YRBS gives teenagers a safe and confidential opportunity to voice our concerns on several issues. This is especially important for teens who do not have a trusted adult in their lives to turn to.”
Another stated, “These are real world questions about serious issues that teenagers need adult help with. The questions may seem difficult, but teenagers are experiencing them.”
From their own school’s data, the group identified four areas of concern in their community: healthy relationships and sex education, mental health, marijuana use before the age of 13, and methamphetamine use. They decided to address the first two areas this year. Students focusing on promoting healthy relationships met with elementary school guidance counselors from around the Newfound school district to develop a fun and engaging 40-minute lesson for 4th and 5th graders that fostered insightful discussion and taught new skills. The activities were designed with red and green flags representing different friendship scenarios. As an outcome, the students were able to identify and understand healthy and supportive friendships to safely navigate relationships. The mental health group created an engaging bulletin board for Mental Health Awareness Month, spotlighting stress triggers for teens, as well as resources for LGBTQ+ youth, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention. With the support of the local organization Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth (CADY), they also implemented an April school vacation week activity for elementary school students, which included a three-day Mental Health Fair that raised awareness about the signs of mental health issues. In addition to helping guide the GTY group’s work, the results of the YRBS data prompted CADY to submit a federal Drug-Free Communities grant application that will direct $1.5 million over the next ten years towards substance use prevention in the Newfound region.
The students also advocated for Getting to “Y” to be a state-wide initiative, stating that it is solutions-focused and inclusive of students’ concerns and ideas. One of the students remarked, “It has been an inspiring and empowering experience to be part of a program that values youth voice … It is rewarding to know that we are making a big difference and will be helping to prevent future problems.” The group’s testimonial had a clear impact on the Senate Education Committee, who voted to provide an exception for the parental consent requirement for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This decision ensures that more voices will be heard when it comes to improving the health and well-being of youth in New Hampshire.