Voices of the future: Western Sydney students become health advocates at SALSA Youth Voices Leadership Day at Westmead Hospital

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‘The future is yours,’ Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD)’s Chief Executive, Graeme Loy announced as he welcomed students to the ‘Students As Lifestyle Activists’ (SALSA) Youth Voices Leadership Day at Westmead Hospital.

A cornerstone of Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD)’s school outreach programs since its establishment 19 years ago, SALSA gives young people a voice and aims to make western Sydney a better place to live through proactive health changes.

The SALSA Youth Voices (SYV) program provides an opportunity for students at schools to build leadership skills and influence the uptake of physical activity and improved diet – empowering them to be health advocates for the next generation.

Something small can make a big change.

Rouse Hill High School student

Director of Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU), WSLHD Clinical Professor Smita Shah OAM said the highlight of the program is seeing the students passionately encouraging their peers to make healthy choices.

The program provides students with the opportunity to create ‘positive disruptions’ to address health inequities in WSLHD.

Professor Shah OAM

This program empowers students to take charge and make positive improvements in the community – a goal that was summed up by one enthusiastic Erskine Park High School student when saying: “we’re just going to teach the new generation to be more active!”

The SALSA Youth Voices Leadership Day is a chance for peer leaders of SYV to come together and present a school action plan on how they will make changes to support a healthier environment while also getting the opportunity to hear feedback from health and education professionals.

I’d like to take away the knowledge I’ve given a good presentation about something I cared deeply about.

Model Farms High School student

All schools that participated in SYV were invited to present and for the first time ever, thanks to WSLHD’s valued partnership with HealthWISE, the student pitches came not only from western Sydney but also regional NSW. These included: 

  • Erskine Park High School: ‘Whole School Volleyball Tournament’
  • Glen Innes High School: ‘Inter CLaN Sports Competition’
  • Model Farms High School: ‘Smooth Steps’
  • Rooty Hill High School: ‘Challenge Day’
  • Rouse Hill High School: ‘Sunscreen Stations’
  • Glen Innes High School: ‘Inter CLaN Sports Competition’
  • Oxley High School: ‘School vs School’

Professor Shah commented that each of the student presentations highlighted the ‘spirit of SALSA’ in promoting physical activity, with an emphasis on accessibility and diversity to ensure all members of the school community can participate.

The continued success of the SYV program demonstrates that providing peer leaders with ownership of their actions is successful in creating healthy school environments, while building leadership, teamwork, communication skills and confidence in adolescents.