- Building Healthy Schools Project Highlight: “REALITY” Party
Building Healthy Schools Project Highlight: “REALITY” Party
Coordinated School Health in the Departments of Education and Health assists 6 school districts (Chamberlain, Miller, Mitchell, Wolsey-Wessington, White River and Wagner) to develop and enhance a school health council in their district through the Building Healthy Schools (BHS) Project .
The school health council’s primary purpose is to:
• Implement effective programs, policies and practices
• Promote physical activity, nutrition and healthy eating
• Reduce tobacco-use
• Increase awareness of HIV prevention
• Establish and strengthen coordinated school health services
With support from Coordinated School Health, a group of high school students from the Miller and Wolsey-Wessington school districts combined forces to provide a “REALITY” Party. The simulated house party gave parents, educators and other community members a glimpse into teen’s risky behaviors. A guided tour through the “party” provided a different situation being portrayed and explained in each area of the house.
It might be a sobering way to wake-up parents. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 69% of South Dakota students in grades 9-12 report having at least one drink of alcohol on one or more days during their life. “I think a lot of parents know that their kid is going to parties, but they don’t really know what’s going on,” said junior Jonni Blake. Blake is one of a group of students that put on the “REALITY” Party for parents in the spring of 2012.
After taking the tour, one of the adult moderators leads a discussion for parents and community members about what could be done to change teen’s behavior in regard to partying. Most agreed that a lot of it came down to parents.
“We’re not here to show parents what their values should be,” Miller’s school counselor Courtney Bertsch said. “We’re here to tell them that talking to their kids will have an impact. Parties aren’t the same as they were even 15 years ago. It can be really scary and eye-opening to know that this goes on so close to home.”
The students agreed that social media has changed the landscape when it comes to house parties. “Nowadays, it’s your party and you might not even know who’s there,” student Chris Williams said. “It used to be you knew who was at your house. Now you might not even know them.”
The “REALITY” Party addresses all the risky behaviors associated with teen drinking, including impaired driving, peer pressure, illegal drug use and date rape. “I think it opens parents’ eyes significantly,” junior Cassandra Coss said. “Even watching each other, we get a taste of how parents might feel. You feel that emotion when you’re planning out a scene.”
Many of the students involved said the simulation has helped them think more carefully about their own choices and those of their friends. It can serve as encouragement to avoid that kind of atmosphere, even when they’re being pressured to do otherwise.
“When I was approached by my counselor to get involved with this, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said. “But I started to enjoy it, and you get to know people from the other communities.”
The original concept for the simulated house parties began in California, and Bertsch knew some people who were involved. “They used a train-the-trainer model, so we went for it. I knew that the more teens who were involved the better. They build connections and we’ve had an awesome turnout so far. All our evaluations were really positive.”
For more information about this activity or the Building Healthy Schools Project please contact Coordinated School Health staff at (605) 773-3261.