Kids are Agents for Change: How to Engage Students in your Advocacy Campaigns
By: Jenn Beideman, Healthi Kids Policy & Research Associate
The Healthi Kids Coalition brings together parents, students, community organizations, local businesses and universities to advocate for healthier more active kids in Rochester and Monroe County. We know, that in order to work together to improve the quality of life of our kids, that it is critical to work alongside them to have meaningful and long-lasting impact.
Kids are powerful change-agents. Research shares that getting youth involved in local advocacy creates meaningful experiences for youth, and supports the growth of their motivation, self-direction, education, and feelings of ownership. Ultimately child-led advocacy can improve programs and communities.,
Since 2008 Healthi Kids has worked with kids to push forward our change agenda in four key ways.
Youth-led Campaigns for Change:
Healthi Kids first campaign was student driven. In 2008, a 6th grade class in the Rochester City School District wanted to work towards improving school meals in the cafeteria. Students made a video demonstrating their current meals, and shared what they wanted to do better. With Healthi Kids support, the kids rallied at Central Office to tell the School Board it was time to make school meals better!
The kids were successful in their demands for change. Their advocacy led to $2 million in improved school food and central kitchen updates, and improved nutrition standards for school meals.
The success of the “Lunch is Gross” campaign is the result of kids getting involved and activated. In our experience, this type of campaign is successful when there is a supportive adult or Coalition that can help guide the students through the process to advocate for meaningful change. The success of this campaign would not have been possible without the guidance of their classroom teacher, Lynn Gatto.
Youth Voice at the Table:
Getting kids involved means also letting them be a part of the process from the beginning. Sometimes as adults we forget about the importance of kids being part of the decision-making process. Not surprisingly, kids often have ideas on how their environments could be improved.
By reaching out to youth to join the decision-making tables, advocacy strategies can be strengthened by developing solutions with them. That’s why at Healthi Kids we continue to draw on youth experience by having them serve on our action teams. Currently our Play BEST (Built Environment, Safety and Transportation) team has five youth who share their voice on issues that affect neighborhood play, traffic and safety. While our School Action Team draws on youth experience from the Rochester City School District’s Kid/Teen Advisory Councils.
Creating Forums for Youth Voice
At times, it’s not always possible for kids to be at community tables – school hours and out of school time commitments can limit their ability to participate on a regular basis. That’s why creating forums for youth voice is critical to advancing advocacy solutions that support kids.
At Healthi Kids we’ve worked alongside the Rochester City School District to create School Food Advisory Councils to provide kids with an opportunity to regularly interact with Food Services Department. The advisory councils meet bimonthly and provides an opportunity for students to help shape the state of school meals by solving problems together taste testing new products and providing input into new menu items.
We’ve also worked with existing youth groups across the city including MCTP, Teen Empowerment, and Youth Voice One Vision to hold youth forums on school meals, summer meals, and community play. The feedback and input we receive from each of these forums aids in the development of our recommendations for future policy, systems and environmental changes in the City of Rochester and Monroe County.
Kids as your Consumer
Ultimately all of our work with kids and youth have stemmed from one key concept. Kids are our consumer. They are the driving force behind the changes we want to see happen in our community; from building healthier schools through recess and school meals, to creating healthy vibrant neighborhoods where kids and their families can walk, bike and play.
By engaging and activating kids and youth throughout our advocacy: we are building up our kids and providing them with tools to be life-long change agents in their community.
For more information about Healthi Kids and our work with youth contact Jenn Beideman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.224.3151.
 Mitra, D. (204). The signficiance ofstudents: Can increasing student voice in schools lead togains youth development? Teachers COleg Record 103(4). Pp 651-688.
 Irby, M., Ferber, T., Pittman, K., with J. Tolman, & N. Yohalem. (2001). Youth Action: Youth Contributing to Communities, Communities Supporting Youth. Community & Youth Development Series, Volume 6. Takoma Park, MD: The Forum for Youth Investment, International Youth Foundation.