Engaging Youth for Positive Change Program Evaluation
Rural communities face significant health disparities and need ways to address them.
Rural communities experience greater health disparities than urban communities due to numerous factors such as access to health care and health insurance. The Engaging Youth for Positive Change (EYPC) civic engagement program aims to improve rural community health by training youth to lobby their local governments to adopt equitable, health-promoting ordinances. During the 16-week program, youth meet local elected officials and community leaders and gather data about their community using observation, interviewing, and survey methodologies. By advocating for healthy policies affecting their communities, their efforts focus on making their community a healthier place to live. The program also provides youth with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to participate more fully in all aspects of civic life as they move into adulthood. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded NORC to evaluate the impact of the EYPC intervention on student and community health, well-being, and equity outcomes.
NORC assessed the impact of the EYPC curriculum in rural schools.
To test the impact of the EYPC intervention on student and community health, well-being, and equity outcomes, NORC developed a rigorous randomized design that assigned 40 rural Illinois high schools to treatment or control conditions. The goal was to include up to 2,400 students. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused great delays and challenges to study recruitment, as schools transitioned to home-based learning. Despite our tenacious efforts, in the end, we recruited 38 schools and less than half of them completed the EYPC program. Of the 16 schools that completed the program, 6 were treatment schools and 10 were control schools. We received data from student surveys, teacher logs, and teacher interviews from these schools. Students were asked a variety of questions regarding their political and health-related behavior. Teachers at treatment schools were asked to reflect on the lessons and curriculum they implemented. They were also asked to participate in interviews about their experience teaching the curriculum and reflections on how students perceived the program.
The EYCP curriculum helped drive change in some places.
Our findings suggest that in some locations the EYPC curriculum spurred community change in meaningful and sustainable directions. Although the study design was unable to produce the power needed to examine causation, the results illuminate a promising correlation between increasing political activism and engaging in healthy lifestyle choices. Overall, teachers perceived students to be engaged and attentive during EYPC lessons and felt that the students developed a deeper understanding of local government and the potential for local civic action. Students in rural America showed us that even in the face of worldwide political and social unrest, they are not only resilient but can adapt to these changes and engage meaningfully with their communities.