Inspiring students take charge on health

Student leaders from seven local high schools presented projects and ideas at the fourth annual Youth Voices Action Day.

Creative actions of students were recognised at the recent 2019 SALSA Youth Voices Action Day at Westmead Hospital, where students presented initiatives aimed at improving health and wellbeing.  

The ‘Students As Lifestyle Activists’ (SALSA) program is driven by WSLHD’s Primary Health Care Education and Research Unit (PERU) and aims to increase fruit, vegetable and water consumption, as well as daily physical activity, among high school students.

SALSA Youth Voices is an additional leadership opportunity for students participating in the SALSA program.

WSLHD Primary Health Care Education and Research unit director, Associate Professor Smita Shah, said there is great benefit in empowering youth to have a voice.

“Students have a wealth of ideas and when given the chance to put these into action, it is inspiring to see all the improvements that are possible,” A/Prof Shah said.

This year saw the fourth annual Youth Voices Action Day event (previously known as SALSA Pitch Day), in which students from seven participating schools presented healthy eating or physical activity action plans designed and implemented at their school.

Projects presented by students included:

  • Blacktown Girls High School: Gala Day aimed at increasing the numbers of girls participating in physical activity at the school, including non-traditional and less competitive sports.
  • Chifley College Mount Druitt Campus: ‘Triple T Project’ (Table Tennis Tournament) which included free fresh fruit cups and water for students.
  • Colyton High School: Plan for the re-opening of the gym, with an upgrade of gym equipment including equipment suitable for younger students and the addition of artwork by a local street artist.
  • Rooty Hill High School: Introduced a plan to refurbish their school gym, with a focus on senior students and increasing female participation.
  • Doonside Technology High School: ‘S.A.L.T’ (Sports at Lunch Time) program included a weekly competition and access to sports equipment during lunch time. It resulted in 100 per cent of the students wanting to run SALT again in 2020 and inspired the formation of a female school volleyball team.
  • Erskine Park High School: Two water filters were installed and delicious fruit snacks were sold at a staff raising $150. A school water bottle is also being designed to encourage students to drink more water and reduce plastic waste.
  • Henry Kendall High School: The ‘Let’s Move at Lunch’ program was introduced a water filter station installed near the school oval and female students redesigned the unisex sports shorts to inspire more girls to participate in physical activities.

Students discussed how they developed their action plans, the challenges, successes and the impact the plans had on their lives and the lives of fellow students.

Two students from Erskine Park High School spoke about the leadership skills they developed from being part of the SALSA Youth Voices and the value of the initiative.

Trophies were awarded to each of the schools for Outstanding Contribution to the SALSA program by WSLHD Research and Education Network director, Emeritus Professor Stephen Leeder and Daniel McAlary, who generously provided funding for 2019 SALSA projects.

Many health and education professionals attended to show their support for the students, including WSLHD chief executive Graeme Loy.

NSW Australian Medical Association (AMA) president and Mount Druitt GP, Dr Kean-Seng Lim, inspired the students to become emerging leaders and encouraged them to use their voice to improve health and wellbeing in NSW.

Associate Professor Smita Shah, said it was inspiring to see the School Action Plans presented by the students and the difference they were making.

“These students are the future of our communities and they demonstrated how powerful their actions can be for themselves and their peers,” A/Prof Shah said. 

The audience was also given the opportunity to provide students with feedback on their projects via a ‘Shout Out’ to each school.