Campaign Spotlight: Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!)
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), based out of North Carolina, hosts Erica Marshall one of the Healthy Communities III Fellows. YES! empowers youth, in partnership with adults, to create community change. They equip high school youth and their adult allies with the tools necessary to take a stand in their communities and create change that will positively impact adolescent health.
Healthy Communities III is a fellowship program connected to eight youth organizing groups in the West, South, Northeast and Southwest. Each group hosts a Healthy Communities Fellow who leads their school and community wellness work and connects it to state and national strategies for change including community education and engagement and policy development and implementation.
In our Campaign Spotlight, we learned from Erica and some of the young people from YES! about their current campaign, which aims support unlimited access to safe and affordable drinking water in schools.
What is your campaign goal for a healthier school environment?
We would like to propose a policy that supports unlimited access to safe, affordable, and palatable drinking water during all times of the school day, and after school hours. Initially we thought that this policy change would be in the wellness policy, but now we are thinking it would also be beneficial to amend the student code of conduct to make sure there are not rules that support restricted access to water.
Why did you choose this as your campaign goal?
For the first time in ten years, the school wellness policy has been updated; however, it does not include language supporting water access. Graduated and current youth staff created a student survey asked youth in schools about their thoughts on the quality and accessibility of water at their schools. They found that most students do have some access to water throughout the school day, but not all of them have money to purchase water in the cafeteria and they agree that bottled water should be free.
What strategies are you using to reach your campaign goal?
Our main strategy for the year has been to build a base of community support through the local health department and local groups that support child nutrition. As the new youth have gone through orientation since being hired, they express a desire to be as involved as possible in our partnership with the youth department. We are currently working on scheduling a meeting with the leader of the I Heart Water initiative with the youth staff for them to give her their insight based on their experience in CMS as well as discuss more effective ways to engage CMS high school aged students.
What role are young people playing in this campaign?
The youth played a significant role in looking through the environmental scan to make sure all of the questions seemed useful and made sense. They have also been researching past issues with water in the local community and around the state to see if it is common for marginalized communities to have restricted water access in their neighborhoods and in their schools.
What are some of the challenges of this campaign and how are you addressing them?
The school administrators and the Department of Environmental Safety have been opposed to the campaign. Their main concern is that we may give them bad publicity if it is discovered that the quality of water in the schools we scan are not up to par with the state requirements. Due to the concerns, our main focus has been on water access in our discussions about the campaign.
There was recently a report released through the Charlotte Observer that revealed at least 27 elementary schools have a dangerous amount of lead in their pipes which could contaminate the water. Although they claim they are replacing those pipes and testing more schools (prioritizing older schools), this shows the YES! team that quality is still a potential issue, which is why we should work to improve access, hopefully through advocating for the funding of more hydration stations.
Reflections from young people:
“It is important before you even start to start making changes to check restrictions already put in place in the student code of conduct. It is so important to have youth involved because it directly affects the youth so they should have a equal voice or a more powerful voice with this specific topic. It is also important to get us directly involved by doing things such as the environmental scan where we went to a local high school and made sure the fountains were in maintenance and clean in high populated areas. What I learned from this campaign involving young people is that we as youth can make huge changes especially in environments mostly populated by youth and also makes more people want to get involved seeing that even youth can do it.”
– Mason, 15
“This water access campaign has highlighted a lot of problems pertaining to students and their access to water throughout their time at school. While doing this campaign, I have learned a lot about the effect that water has on a students performance and the lack of water access in CMS schools. Before starting this campaign, I didn’t realize how important it was that students had water. I think that it is important to have young people involved in this specific campaign because we are the people being directly impacted. My hopes for this campaign is that we are able to pass a policy that ensures that all CMS students have access to free water bottles and are able to have and drink water whenever they want throughout the school day.”
– A’Niya, 16
“My experience with working on the water access campaign is opened my eyes to water accessibility in title one schools. I started realizing how water access can affect the way students learn and how they can get throughout the school day. I learned the importance of having water in your system during your school day and after. Every student having accessible water is a must for them to succeed.”
– Josh, 15
“Some of the main lessons I’ve learned from our campaign is that one make sure you have a complete plan thought out before you start anything you can’t just jump into an campaign you really have to think about it and really see what are you trying to change so that all plays a important part into your campaign. Overall, for this to be my first campaign I’ve truly just learned a lot about my community, my school system, and how to come up with an agenda that I have to follow through with.”
– Constance, 16
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