Youth for Healthy Schools

A RYSE Youth Member Shares Her Experience in Youth Participatory Action Research

RYSE Center, based out of Richmond, CA, hosts Brian Villa, one of the Healthy Communities III Fellows. RYSE creates safe spaces grounded in social justice for young people to love, learn, educate, heal, and transform lives and communities. Their programs include Youth Organizing, Community Health, Education + Justice and Media, Arts + Culture.

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.

Brian worked with Dashia, a young person in RYSE’s program, to share her story and research on the Youth Participatory Action Research project they conducted to understand violence/bullying based on gender and sexuality. One of the Healthy Communities III priorities is healthy school climates, and campaigns that support the social  and emotional health of students:

MDashiay name is Dashia and I am a RYSE youth member, a Public Health intern, and Richmond Air Quality Initiative intern. Through my Public Health internship, my co-interns and I conducted a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project on gender and sexual based violence. We surveyed around 100 local students and held interviews and focus groups to understand how youth experience violence/bullying based on their gender and sexuality, and to create safer spaces.

My favorite part about the RYSE programs I am involved with is just being able to do good for my community. I enjoy doing things that I know will have a direct effect on the community I live in. My favorite experience with the Public Health Internship would have to be speaking at the National Conference of Health and Domestic Violence in San Francisco. I was proud of the fact that I could speak at a national conference with different nurses, doctors, grad students, and service providers. It made me feel special because I was one of the youngest representatives on the panel and I was able to inform everyone on the research I conducted.

To me, youth power is when youth come together to uplift each other and fight for what we believe is right. It is when we learn to recognize our own voices and understand that we can make change in our community. At RYSE, we see youth power in every direction.

RYSE is filled with youth who are passionate and wise. Youth Power in RYSE is knowing that we have a voice and how to use it. Youth power shows up by simply claiming RYSE as their safe place where they are free to express themselves. Throughout my internships RYSE has helped me find my youth power. RYSE exposed me to something new and allowed me to find my passion in social and environmental justice. They also taught me how to be more confident in my ideas and more comfortable with speaking in front of adults.

Dashia’s Interview with RYSE on the YPAR Public Health Internship20170929_091551 (1)

How did you initially feel about the internship and Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project?

Dashia: Initially, I wasn’t interested that much in YPAR. I joined an internship over the summer because I wanted to get paid. I expected it to be boring and extremely complicated. It was something that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy that much. However, throughout the YPAR process, I became more interested and even grew a love for it. I loved the fact that my project related to my community and myself. I was able to shed light to a problem and suggest ways to solve it.

What information/workshop/presentation stood out most during your preparation?

Dashia: A workshop that stood out the most to me was the cycle of violence.  We talked about how everyone is born with the same basic needs. When babies grow up without these basic needs, it affects their health outcomes and how they navigate the world.  

Describe your experiences creating surveys, and conducting focus groups/interview? How did it feel gathering data from youth in your community?

Dashia: For our quantitative research strategies, we chose to do surveys. Creating the surveys was difficult. We had brainstormed many questions and it was challenging to word and order them in the right way without creating bias. We also conducted qualitative focus groups as part of our action plan. We were able to have deeper conversations about people’s experiences with gender based violence.

How did the data findings impact you?

Dashia: When we analyzed our data, I was not surprised at the results but it still moved me. Only 40% of female identified participants said they felt safe based on their gender compared to 90% of male identified participants. This moved me because I could relate to the data. I knew that I didn’t feel safe based on my gender, however, I didn’t know that the people around me felt the same. It made me look at my community in a different lens because I realized that it wasn’t a personal problem but it was a community problem. I am able to see that as a community we need to come together and fight against gender based violence and help the youth heal.

What action plans did you initiate based on your data findings?

Dashia: Our action plan included presenting to local organizations, facilitating focus groups and launching a social media campaign with our findings. Presenting our findings was an empowering experience. It was very rewarding because I was able to inform people on research that hasn’t been done in our community. I felt proud of our findings because I know that it can bring attention to an ongoing issue. I felt that allowing people to see the issues will encourage them to do something about it.

What was the most rewarding experience during the project?

Dashia: YPAR is not just a project to me. It is a shift in your mindset. It allows you to open your eyes and become aware of the challenges around you and the role you play in it. This process has reassured me on my career plans. I want to become a psychologist so I can help people who are experiencing problems in their personal lives, including gender based violence. I will use the skills I gained from my YPAR project for the rest of my life.


The following case study highlights the experience of Dashia Wright and her co-public health YPAR researchers. Their research topics, findings and testimonials summarize their inquiry and recommended responses to the interconnected issues of gender and sexual based violence/bullying and the use of drugs as a primary coping strategy for young people in Richmond.

YPAR on Gender and Sexual-Based Violence and Bullying
Conducted by: Dashia Wright, Paul Ruiz, Lily Boonnam

Topic: Gender and Sexual Based Violence and Bullying
Issue: Young people experience gender and sexual based violence/bullying in our community
Purpose: To understand how young people experience and are impacted by gender and sexual based violence. To create safer spaces and a culture of education and prevention
Research Question(s): How are young people impacted by gender and sexual based violence? What supports do young people need in order to feel safe?
Theoretical Frameworks: Youth researchers read articles on gender justice, intersectionality, and oppression.
Methodology: Mixed Methods Data Collection
Data Findings: Quantitative data was gathered from 130 Surveys conducted between June 2017 and August 2017. Qualitative data was gathered through 10 semi-structured interviews conducted between June 2017 and August 2017. Focus Groups were conducted as part of the action plan between October 2017 and November 2017


Interview and Focus Group Quotes

“Well it (gender violence) happens to girls all the time…in social media…girls who like girls are sexualized. For guys who like guys it’s wrong.”

“Gender violence is just an issue for gay people”

“There is a double standard in schools where girls are targeted more for how they dress”

“People are asleep. They are not woke. You see it (gender violence) all the time. You get on your phone you see it. You turn on the TV you see it. You walk on the street, you see it. People are looking but they are not trying to do anything. They think it doesn’t affect them.”

Data Recap: Analysis/Conclusion:

According to our surveys, about 80% of male-identified respondents felt safe based on their gender vs. 40% of female-identified respondents. Participants saw violence, bullying, and stereotypes based on gender and sexuality mainly in social media, schools, TV, and in their neighborhood. Majority of participants said they were only sometimes likely to step in when seeing gender violence. 76% of respondents answered 1-3; not familiar to somewhat familiar with gender based violence. Young people say that they see gender and sexual based violence everywhere, but they indicated that they generally feel safe. This shows that young people are normalizing gender violence. Most male-identified respondents of color indicated that they believe that gender justice was a “gay issue” and that they don’t have anything to do with it.  This reflects the data finding on how most young people indicated that they do not know or understand what gender violence is. Most straight male and female-identified students feel safer compared to LGBTQ students. Majority of female-identified youth believe that women are often targeted and sexualized. Students indicated that they need more education and workshops. They want to get involved, but don’t know how to. We need more opportunities and spaces to have conversations about gender based violence and bullying.

Action Plan:

Focus Groups: After analyzing the initial data, the public health interns decided to do focus groups with RYSE’s different identity groups in order to gather more information and to create more opportunities to have deeper conversations about gender based violence and gender justice. They created activities and discussion questions and facilitated their focus groups with RYSE’s young women’s group, young men’s group, and LGBTQQ group. After conducting the focus groups the interns concluded that they wanted to host a gender caucus between the groups and have a deeper dialogue.

Social Media Campaign/PSA: The data findings indicated that youth mostly see gender and sexual based violence on social media. One way the interns wanted to address this issue was to start building a social media campaign/public service announcements to help spread awareness of gender-based violence and their research.

Presentations: The public health interns presented their research in numerous spaces including: National Conference for Health and Domestic Violence, DeAnza High School Health Academy Board Meeting, and the RYSE Center


Trainings/workshops for teachers, admin, and students on gender justice and how to address gender and sexual based violence with youth

  • Since a majority of students see stereotypes at school, we need more opportunities and events to educate each other and make schools more inclusive.
  • Support groups for young women, young men, and lgbtq students, connecting students with resources in school and organizations out of school.

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Press Release: Healthy Communities Phase III Launch

Youth for Healthy Schools activates youth of color to ensure every child grows up healthy

For Immediate Release

For Further Information:

Mόnica Cόrdova, FCYO Healthy Communities Program Director                           505-385-6590

Nijmie Dzurinko, Healthy Communities III Coach                                                    215-667-0066


HC Fellows

The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) is excited to announce the launch of Healthy Communities III, Youth for Healthy Schools. Due to systemic inequities in their schools and communities, low-income young people of color are at a very high risk for obesity, chronic disease, high stress and other health-related issues that impede them from growing up healthy.  This initiative supports low-income young people and young people of color organizing to  address the root causes of these health challenges and to connect their local campaigns to statewide and national strategies. The third phase of Healthy Communities, will further advance the leadership of young people of color in advocating for the creation of healthy schools as a foundation for the improved physical, social and emotional health of students.

The foundation of the Healthy Communities III initiative is a fellowship program connected to eight host organizing groups across seven states. 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. Additionally, there are six partner organizations in five states who are leading campaigns to create healthy school environments . Through Healthy Communities III, all host and partner organizations receive peer support and technical assistance in the areas of policy, strategy, and communications.

Sandra Garcia, a fellow from Healthy Communities II, which just wrapped, secured 53 changes to the San Antonio school district food menu, including more fresh vegetables, whole grains, and vegetarian options. Sandra was working as the youth coordinator with Southwest Workers. “I have been able to grow an understanding that my background and my story are very important for connecting with youth and parents on a level where they understand the importance of healthy foods in the school and at home,” said Sandra. “The grant has given us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with food policy players.” The third phase of this initiative hopes to continue making impacts at the policy level to improve wellness in communities of color.

Please follow and friend us to keep up with the voices of young advocates, and solutions and opportunities for engagement from youth of color across the country.  Visit for updates.

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On Twitter, please follow us @YoutHealSchools

On Instagram, please follow us  @Youth4HealthySchools

Healthy Communities Host and Partner Sites

Host Organizations and Fellows:

  1. Community Food Advocates, New York, NY; Fellow: Kristina Erskine
  2. FEEST Seattle, Seattle, WA; Fellow: Thuy-Mai Nguyen
  3. InnerCity Struggle, Los Angeles, CA; Fellow: Estefany Ines Garcia
  4. Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, Denver, CO; Fellow: Cinthia Suasti
  5. RYSE Center, Richmond, CA; Fellow: Brian Villa
  6. SouthWest Organizing Project, Albuquerque, NM; Fellow: Amanda Gallegos
  7. Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), Raleigh, NC; Fellow: Erica Marshall
  8. Youth United for Change, Philadelphia, PA; Fellow: Nick Ospa

Partner Organizations:

  1. Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Chicago, Illinois
  2. Grow Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut
  3. F.R.E.S.H New London, New London Connecticut
  4. The SouthWest Worker’s Union, San Antonio, Texas
  5. The Baltimore Algebra Project, Baltimore, Maryland
  6. Providence Student Union, Providence, Rhode Island

About FCYO

Founded in 2000, the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) is a dynamic collective of social justice funders and youth organizing practitioners dedicated to advancing youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social change. FCYO’s mission is to increase resources to the field of youth organizing and promote the leadership of low-income young people and young people of color in social justice organizing.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at



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Youth for Healthy Schools responds to House Nutrition Bill


House Nutrition Bill: More paperwork and less nutrition for poor kids

Youth for Healthy Schools strongly opposes the harmful changes in theImproving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003).We support strong nutrition standards for all students and universal free meals for poor students with no stigma and bureaucratic barriers.

Specifically, the draft proposes to roll back standards on whole grains, and slow or stall the reduction of sodium in school meals based on factors like increased costs and levels of student participation. Basing the quality of food served in our schools on how much it costs amounts to telling poor students that healthy food is too good for them. This hypocritical move would also mean that school meals will be out of step with dietary guidelines for Americans.

The draft also reduces the impact of “smart snacks” standards, allowing a return to the days when students are expected to market unhealthy foods to their peers while also having to navigate a cafeteria full of chips, fries, and ice cream.

Finally, the draft would reduce the number of schools that can opt into the Community Eligibility Provision, which according to a recent report by the Center for Budget Policy Priorities has been shown to limit the paperwork required of schools and families, reduce error rates in program applications, and combat hunger by increasing children’s participation in meal programs. Currently, the provision allows schools where at least 40% of students receive safety net benefits to offer free meals to all students, and have schools use local funds to cover any costs that are not covered by federal reimbursement. This bill would raise the threshold to 60%, meaning that schools will have to go back to collecting and processing applications from each family. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities reports that 7,000 high poverty schools with over three million students would have to reinstate applications. Ultimately, our taxes will be going to paperwork rather than to meals and education, punishing poor students in communities around the country – be they urban, suburban, rural or reservations.

“I read about the House’s reauthorization bill and it’s very discouraging. Our families in Southwest Denver already have to work hard to make sure we have access to fresh, healthy food. Does the federal government really care about the health of students like me? About hungry kids in my school who have trouble concentrating?” questioned Estefania Torres, 9th grader and member of Padres y Jovenes Unidos.

Youth for Healthy Schools promotes and implements evidence-based practices to increase the availability and affordability of fresh, local and healthy food in our schools and communities. We support full funding and implementation of farm to school programs, training and technical assistance for cafeteria staff, renovation of kitchens for the fresh preparation of food, and free school meals to high poverty schools.


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Youth United for Change wins commitment from the School District of Philadelphia to do a full inventory of water fountains in all public schools

Youth United for Change (YUC) in partnership with other community and advocacy groups, won a commitment from the School District of Philadelphia to do a full inventory of water fountains throughout all public schools. The announcement comes on the heels of a recent City Council Hearing on the State of Water in Philadelphia. YUC members were in attendance and provided testimony. Getting the district to agree to a full assessment of the water infrastructure in all SDP schools met one of YUC’s demands for water access. This is a big victory for the campaign, but there is still much work to be done. YUC will continue to press for the availability of clean and safe drinking water for all Philadelphia students; with $88 million dollars of unexpected local tax revenues, this windfall could be transformative in not only addressing issues of water access but also broader material conditions within schools. A big shout out to the Food Trust, Education Law Center-PA, CHOP PolicyLab, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the PFT, PennEnvironment and the Campaign for Lead Free Water for helping creating the conditions for greater oversight regarding Philadelphia’s water


Read more here.

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Youth for Healthy Schools Celebrates the 5th Anniversary of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

Youth for Healthy Schools, a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color leading a movement for school and community wellness, celebrates the 5-year anniversary of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

We believe that healthy food is a right, not a privilege. We also believe strong policy is essential to helping ensure that communities of color and low-income communities have access to fresh and healthy food. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is an important advancement in creating healthier school environments for all students in public schools.

As youth and parents, we are leading efforts in our local communities to improve school food by securing funds and partnerships for farm to school programs, scratch kitchens, and salad bars. We have fought and won for programs that ensure students receive breakfast in the classroom. We are ensuring youth voice in local food policy councils and winning school based wellness centers that attend to the holistic health and wellness needs of students and communities.

We have educated ourselves about the reauthorization of the Childhood Nutrition Act over this year, and we agree with the standards put forward in the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act like less sodium, increased whole grains, and requirements to serve more fruits and vegetables. We know that healthy food can taste great, especially when it is fresh and local. And eating food that is fresh instead of processed means that portion sizes can be bigger too. One of our members had this to say: “When they started giving us fruits and vegetables at lunch, I started eating them,” – Jesus of Inner City Struggle in L.A., a member of Youth for Healthy Schools.

School food is no laughing matter. We may be the first generation of students with a shorter life expectancy that our parents. Maintaining a healthy weight and warding off diseases like diabetes are harder and harder when communities of color and low-income communities lack fresh, healthy, affordable food options. In order to make nutrition standards really work for students, we need to source our food from local farms instead of the industrial factory-made food that is currently provided by corporations.

We call on Congress to make reauthorization of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids with strong standards and increased funding a priority, not a political football. Support us in creating a healthy future.


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