Crozer-Keystone Health System’s Wellness Center was presented with an Achievement Award from the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) for its Youth Leadership Program.
The Youth Leadership Program addresses multiple risk behaviors of high school students in the Chester-Upland school district. Each year, the program involves 40 high school students and provides them with training to be peer leaders to sixth grade students, while also offering enrichment activities to help develop the participants.
“Our goal is to train high school students to be leaders in the community,” says Rima Himelstein, M.D., medical director of the Wellness Center and director of Adolescent Medicine at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “Our training focuses on adolescent health topics such as interpersonal violence, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The peer leaders then have the opportunity to internalize the information by working with the middle school students.”
To meet its goals, the program incorporates training sessions, service learning and enrichment activities for each student. Those who remain active in the program the entire year receive stipends ranging from $350 to $750, depending on level of participation in optional activities.
“Each student is expected to participate in 40 hours of Peer Leader Training at the start of the school year,” says Kate Blackburn, director of Youth Development Programs at the Wellness Center. “These sessions focus on topics such as public speaking, group facilitation, sexually transmitted infections, abstinence and contraception. In addition, to prepare peer leaders to present the in-class curriculum to sixth graders, ‘Train the Trainer’ workshops are held and focus on the specifics of each lesson. Additional training also takes place throughout the year during monthly Peer Leader meetings.”
Once the peer leaders are prepared to teach, they are assigned to teams of three, and then appointed to designated groups of sixth grade students. The curriculum consists of eight lessons, presented weekly during a 50-minute class period. Lessons focus on topics such as peer pressure, tobacco use, sexually transmitted infections, communication and relationships. An average of 450 sixth grade students are involved in the intervention each year.
In addition to training and the instructional components of the program, the peer leaders are also offered a variety of personal, academic and career enrichment activities through out the year. Last year’s programs included activities such as student resume writing workshops, college tours, tutoring, career presentations, job shadowing opportunities, public speaking engagements related to the Youth Leadership Program, special events planning, and a program development committee for new grant applications and projects.
“We’re very honored to have our program recognized by HAP,” Himelstein says, “but we are most proud of our results. Compared to Healthy People 2010 and Chester High School and City data, our birth rates among female participants are down, and our grade point averages and graduation rates are up. We’re very proud of what our students have done.”
The birth rate among high school females who are active in the Youth Leadership Program for more than one year, between 1996 and 2004, is 27.3. This is drastically lower than the 2000 Census data that states a 79.6 birth rate in the City of Chester among females 15-17 years old.
Continuing the trend is fact that 120 of the 121 high school students enrolled in the Youth Leadership Program for more than one year, between 1996 and now, have graduated. This equates to a 99.2 percent graduation rate, compared to the Chester High School 2002 graduation rate of 68.7 percent. Finally, peer leaders in the program for more than one year had an average grade point average in the fourth marking period of the 2003-2004 school year of 3.05, compared to a 2.63 among those enrolled in the program less than one year.
“The Wellness Center’s Youth Leadership program is a valuable asset to the health system and the community,” says Joan K. Richards, chief operating officer of Crozer-Keystone Health System and president of CKHS Hospitals. “The team has been able to create and sustain interest in the Youth Leadership Program for nine years, all while achieving its health related objectives. The program is an example of true community collaboration, identifying and effectively addressing the shared interests of the health system and the surrounding community.”
The Youth Leadership Program is based at Community Hospital. It is led by Blackburn. For more information, call (610) 497-7422 or 14-7422.