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At Rescue Agency, we strongly believe in the power of youth engagement and advocacy to drive meaningful and lasting policy changes. The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) worked with Rescue Agency to train and support their Youth Action for Health Leadership (YAHL) team to improve health in Oklahoma's schools by advocating for policy change.
Most children consume as much as half of their daily calories at school. Schools have a tremendous opportunity to improve the health of their students. Recognizing the critical importance of student health, YAHL members focused their efforts on advocating for the adoption of Elevate Student Health policy standards. Elevate Student Health partners with school districts across the state to improve their wellness policies through greater access to nutritious foods, increased physical activity, and more opportunities to drink water throughout the day.
Since its beginning in 2021, YAHL youth have worked with five school districts to improve their school wellness policies. In June 2023, Tahlequah Public Schools and Luther Public Schools adopted the Elevate Student Health policy standards to improve their students' and staff's access to healthy options and physical activity opportunities. With the recent policy adoptions over 8,000 Oklahoman students and staff are protected under Elevate Student Health school wellness policy standards.
Arianna Santana, worked directly to improve Tahlequah’s school wellness policy and is an incoming senior at Keys High School. She spoke about why improving wellness policies is important to her: "It's important to me to speak out about our schools' wellness policies because we are still young, and it has such a direct impact on our future lives and health. As students, we have to speak up for ourselves and the well-being of our peers," Santana said.
Tahlequah Assistant Superintendent DeAnn Mashburn was ecstatic and shared her thoughts: "We update our policies and review them every year because we care about our students. We know that we aren't just teaching them Math, Science, and Social Studies; we are teaching the whole child. Their health is very, very important to how they will perform academically, so that's why every year we try to evaluate our policies and do best practices, and we love the partnership."
Driven by their enthusiasm and belief in the importance of student health, YAHL members have risen to the challenge and made their voices heard, proving that young people can drive remarkable results. We hope that YAHL youth members' success in advocating for Elevate Student Health at Luther School District and Tahlequah School District will create a ripple effect that will positively impact thousands of students and staff in Oklahoma. As we applaud YAHL’s achievements, we are reminded of the profound influence young people can have when they unite for a common cause.
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