‘Our voices were heard’: western Sydney students share big plans to inspire physical activity at their schools during SALSA Youth Voices event

Gathered in the Westmead Education and Conference Centre (WECC) at Westmead Hospital, over 60 students from schools across western Sydney presented plans to change the future.

These young leaders showcased their ideas to encourage physical activity and wellbeing in their school communities to a room full of their peers and Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) medical experts.

The event, SALSA (Students As LifeStyle Activists) Youth Voices Action Day, was a chance for the students to speak to a range of stakeholders and receive feedback on their work.

We brought all our ideas together to create something bigger.

Blacktown Girls High School student

“The School Action Plans developed by the peer leaders in 2022 were highly commendable with the potential to impact on current and future students,” Director of Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU), WSLHD, Clinical Professor Smita Shah OAM said.

SALSA made our voices be heard. Other times we’ve spoken up and nothing has happened.

Blacktown Girls High School student

Run by the team at WSLHD’s Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU), student pitches included:

  • Blacktown Girls HS – Phase 1: Colour Run Fruit Day and Phase 2: relining the tennis courts
  • Erskine Park HS – Revamping the School Gym
  • Rooty Hill HS – Hoops 4 Hope
  • Rouse Hill HS – Outdoor gym
  • Malek Fahd Islamic College – Food equity

This program provided enhanced teamwork and leadership skills, communication, collaboration, responsibility, time management. It really enhanced the skills we already we had.

Blacktown Girls High School student

“A key takeaway for students’ participation in SALSA Youth Voices (SYV) is that they are empowered to believe they can help influence change within their school community to create supportive healthy environments,” Smita said.

“Moreover, SYV provides an opportunity for students to showcase their school actions to an audience of health and education professionals who are receptive to providing support for ideas which demonstrate potential to positively benefit local communities.

It’s a valuable program we run in our school. Our executives, students and younger students see value in it, especially when they engage with each other.

Blacktown Girls High School teacher

“SYV is important as it offers young people agency, to change behaviours and their environment, to enable them to be more active and eat healthy. Through the program, students identify the key issues which they deem as important to their school community and engage in collective action to create positive, lasting changes.”

These were sentiments echoed by presenters including WSLHD Chief Executive Graeme Loy, WSLHD’s Director, Population Health, Centre for Population Health Dr Shopna Bag, Professor Michael Kohn, A/Professor Michael Fasher and A/Professor Michael Burke.