Youth Led Projects Strive to Create Belonging
High school students from Portage County gathered for a Youth Summit in early 2020 to discuss social problems such as vaping, alcohol use, and social media bullying in their schools and communities. The student leaders finished the day by developing action plans to implement at their schools.
This was part of an effort to increase youth led prevention activities in Portage County. In youth led prevention, youth are given a voice in planning, decision-making, implementation, evaluation, and recognition processes. Students hear directly from their peers about how to handle issues and then they develop programs to enhance the protective factors and build resilience.
“The youth projects included ways for them to increase developmental assets for themselves and for their school community,” explained Dr. John Garrity, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board. “Developmental assets are building blocks for health development that help young people grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible.”
This past year, Tiffany Rittenour, a prevention specialist from Townhall II, has been working to guide the students with their projects. “It was difficult to continue with the projects because of the pandemic. I wasn’t able to go into the school buildings and meet in person with the students,” Rittenour explained.
The students at Streetsboro High School did continue with their project to reach out to the entire school body through engaging activities to create a sense of belonging. They added daily announcements to let students know about club meetings and activities, held spirit days, and purchased a spirit rock for the high school.
“The Youth-Led project was a very positive experience for our students this spring,” said Streetsboro School Counselor Ira Campbell. “Coming off such a stressful year for everyone, what the students planned to raise school spirit was refreshing. It brought about a sense of community and togetherness and students were excited to participate and have a little bit of normalcy back in their lives.”
Townhall II has provided smaller youth led prevention projects to Portage schools for several years, but this past year was the first time they were able to have a dedicated staff member to advise youth led projects through funding the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County received from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) K-12 Prevention Education Initiative.