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Healthy People 2020 At Work in the Community: Salem Healthy Kids 2012

The Salem Healthy Kids 2012 project, a collaboration between the Salem Theatre Company and Salem Cyberspace Youth Center, used theater to teach middle and high school students about positive health behaviors through dramatic skits. The project staff worked with the kids to select their skit topics related to healthy choices. From the Healthy People 2020 topics, they chose to focus on bullying, substance abuse, and nutrition. "They selected the topics that were most actively affecting their lives," explained Judith Black, the Salem Healthy Kids 2012's Creative Director.

To recruit teens to participate in their program, the project coordinators worked closely with Salem Cyberspace Youth Center to visit schools and tell kids what their program was all about. The teens who participated in the Salem Healthy Kids 2012 project learned about behavior change strategies through role playing, storytelling, and improvisation. "We created scenarios and asked them to come up with ways they could change the ending," said Ms. Black. The children especially enjoyed the improvisation.

Although teens were required to commit to participating in the entire program, scheduling ended up being the most difficult part about their project. "Working with teens can be like herding cats," explained Ms. Black. "We tried to get them to commit to attending every practice, but this wasn't possible for all of our students." She went on to explain that it was especially difficult because their project happened at the same time as the state exams.

Their Own Stories

"The last thing kids need is adults telling them not to drink, smoke, or do drugs," explained Ms. Black. "They hear this every day, and then they watch adults drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. Instead, I asked them to think about an experience that they, a family member, or friend had related to alcohol or drugs. Without any more instruction, not one of them had a 'drugs are fun' tale."

Some of the children also had a lot more responsibilities at home, such as having to help their parents pick up the groceries or babysit. "I used to get so frustrated when my students would answer their phones during practice, but I learned that when a Dominican mother calls her child, they better pick up immediately," said Ms. Black. She learned to be more understanding and turned this struggle into a learning opportunity.

"I would tell them to think of their classmates like their team. If one person did not show up, it was like they were letting their team down," said Ms. Black. This approach helped her students understand why it was important to show up to as many practices as they could.

All of the time, dedication, and hard work that the teens and project team put into these skits really paid off when it came time to perform. The evaluations that they received from 400 7th and 8th graders who watched their skits confirmed that these skits deeply resonated with other children in their community.

Youth Empowerment

"I asked them to think about an experience that they, a family member, or friend had related to alcohol or drugs. Without any more instruction, not one of them had a 'drugs are fun' tale."—Judith Black, Creative Director

The evaluations also confirmed that the messages that they were trying to communicate were well received by their peers. "They understood that whole grains, even though advertised, often do not show up in cereals as real fiber, and that too many cereals are like 'Jolly Ranchers in milk.' They saw ways of dealing with bullying that they could understand and mirror," said Ms. Black.

Most importantly, Salem Healthy Kids 2012 created a safe place where children can continue to share their hard stories without judgment. "Young people can go a long way in solving their own problems," explained Ms. Black. "They are resilient, and a little love and encouragement and a lot of structure can take them anywhere they need to go."

Date Posted:
Organization Name: Salem Theater Company
Program Name: 

Salem Healthy Kids 2012

90 Lafayette St
Salem, MA 01970
United States
Healthy People 2020 Topic Area(s) addressed: 
Healthy People 2020 overarching goal addressed: 
Promote quality of life, healthy development, and healthy behaviors across all life stages.
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The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) challenged America’s health organizations to come up with new and innovative projects that could tackle some of today’s most pressing public health issues.

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