YFE TIG Week: Youth Engagement during a Pandemic by Marcia M. Zorrilla

Hello! I’m Marcia M. Zorrilla, DrPH, MCHES and the Director of Positive Youth Development at the Stanford REACH Lab, Stanford School of Medicine.

My years of experience in youth board development come from my work as a clinical health educator at a school-based health center where I established a Youth Advisory Board from the ground up. More recently, when I started working at the Stanford REACH Lab as the Director of Positive Youth Development, I was tasked with establishing the Lab’s Youth Action Board (YAB). Our YAB is an internship program. The YAB learn about youth tobacco and cannabis use, and use that information to inform and impact how researchers, educators, and policy makers educate and legislate.

The YAB started in January 2020 with a small group of about twelve youth from the San Francisco Bay area and one youth from North Carolina (who met with us via FaceTime). Some of the youth were from the high school associated with the clinic, others were youth who were googling and seeking information about tobacco prevention and found our lab. A few invited their siblings or friends to join the YAB.

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, we pivoted to Zoom and have been meeting there ever since. Our Youth Action Board has grown to 34 youth. Having our meetings on Saturday mornings (2-3 Saturdays/month) helps reduce barriers in participating. Most are returning YABbers, but several found the YAB through their Instagram. Despite being online, youth do find being online fun! We have youth from not only California but also Texas, Maryland, Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, New York, and India. We have 4 committees: communications, curriculum, research, and policy. The youth receive an honorarium each semester.

One of the first projects the YAB did was create a webinar on coping during the pandemic. They each created a short video of the type of activities they were doing to deal with stress and uncertainty of COIVD-19. Since our Lab’s focus is on school-based tobacco and cannabis prevention, resources on quitting vaping were included. During this time, the YAB created an Instagram account to connect with other youth who were also feeling isolated and needed support. The webinar evolved as a yearly YAB project and is based on how they want to approach tobacco and cannabis prevention to their peers. Last spring the YAB did a virtual Forum Theatre on Vaping in the School Bathroom to discuss the growing problem of vaping in the bathroom; nearly all the YAB had similar experiences no matter their location.

Lessons Learned

We do a yearly end of YAB cycle feedback evaluation with the YAB and one of the things they said is that they felt heard by us, the adults. In terms of mitigating adultism, it’s important to be honest with youth as far as what can and cannot be done because of the organization’s rules. For example, as an online internship program, we cannot have youth under age 14; if we were in-person, the age restriction is no youth under 16. There are mandatory trainings they need to complete and strict deadlines to keep. Colleagues that understand youth development and support having youth in adult spaces is also important for success.

Developing a youth board does take time and takes staff time to do it right, so for the staff who is mentoring a YAB, it means time away from other job responsibilities and having other staff not mind doing that work. Though it requires a lot of flexibility and patience from everyone at the organization, the collaboration between youth and adult is enriching and is mutually beneficial. For staff, it makes the work we do much better because of the YAB and their perspectives on tobacco and cannabis use in their communities. For the YAB as peer health educators and advocates, the experience is empowering in being able to share their perspectives with adults and educate their peers on tobacco and cannabis prevention.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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