In the coming weeks we’ll see a new generation of youth graduate and move into higher education classrooms and the workforce. At this nostalgic and celebratory time of year, how are we helping to ensure we’re building a healthy, high-achieving generation of youth to follow? At GENYOUth, we view youth themselves as the solution to the current challenges of health and wellness in schools and communities – a role kids have always played in American life.
American youth have unfailingly been involved in making organizational and civic changes on their own behalf. From lowering the U.S. voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971, to campaigns involving substance abuse, seat-belt awareness, stopping texting-while-driving, anti-bullying messages, and more. In each of these cases, youth have helped lead the way.
At GENYOUth we believe that students’ involvement in advocating for healthy eating and physical activity environments and practices is in the same tradition as these other social movements, and is integral to solving the childhood obesity epidemic.
We know that empowering youth can be as simple as listening to them. And when youth are actively engaged in a problem that concerns them, the outcomes are better.
In our latest report, Empowering Youth: Students as Change Agents for Wellness in Schools and Communities, we share what motivates students to be change-agents for healthy schools. What’s most important to youth? Having fun, developing leadership skills, making an impact on their world, appreciation and respect from peers and adults, and sometimes bucking the system.
Through consistent dialogue with students, we learn every day about how best to enable them when they seek out opportunities for development and leadership in our programs and beyond. Ours is an ongoing quest to understand more about how and why students want and need to “create and build demand” for wellness in schools; the roles that mentorship, training, and team building play in their efforts; the correlation between students’ involvement and sustainable change in school buildings; and the impact that active and early involvement can ultimately make on students’ maturity and career success.
It is our collective responsibility to give students the power to make the decisions and solve problems that directly affect them. By elevating youth voice, we can, and will, embolden a generation of social entrepreneurs and change agents.
I challenge everyone who believes in the power and potential of students to find ways to uplift them, and make them the agents of change they are so capable of being. What could be more important to their future, and our nation’s?
Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth. Founded through an unprecedented public-private partnership with National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL), and committed to child health and wellness, GENYOUth brings leaders in health, education, government and business together in a movement to help America’s youth achieve a healthier future. To learn more about GENYOUth and join the movement visit: www.genyouthfoundation.org.