Any initiative that actively engages adolescents to take control of their lives by illustrating how they can actively and positively participate in their social environment instead of being a victim of it, is powerful. Wallerstein, Sanchez-Merki & Dow (2006) explore a program that utilized at its heart Freirian empowerment education methods and Ronald Rogers (1984 in Wallerstein, Sanchez-Merki & Dow, 2006) protection-motivation behavior change theory and applied it to a health education intervention program in New Mexico public schools, the Adolescent Social Action Program. Unfortunately, due to funding issues, the program has since closed. While this may be a simplistic rendering of the program, the adolescent participants in the program actively engaged one another, were taught how to apply critical thinking to their own lives and their actions and the actions of others. Instead of letting life happen to them, they took an active role in their own lives and, through Rogers’ social change model, they began social and health projects for the schools and communities where they live. Those projects included an exploration of social-legal policies, community resources, and prevention strategies for risky behaviors.
As the program expanded prior to its unfortunate disbanding, a comprehensive analysis of two participating high schools was conducted and five significant themes emerged: the youths’ abilities to engage in dialogue had evolved, their ability to emotionally connect with others and self-disclose evolved, their critical thinking evolved as they better understood social problems and their link to society, their increased action to promote changes, and how they perceived their own ability to be involved in change.
While there were challenges and issues that arose throughout the studies the authors site, they were successful in their way. However, I question the dearth of these kinds of programs in more communities throughout the United States and why there isn’t a collective or cooperative network of agencies in place to facilitate such programs when they are obviously needed. And if not this, at least promotional propaganda should exist to promote the facilitation of such programs in individual communities. There are communities like Savannah, GA and depressed communities in San Diego that could benefit from such initiatives. At the same time, we need to train ourselves to go out into our communities and do this ourselves.
Wallerstein, N., Sanchez-Merki, V., & Dow, L. (2006). Freirian praxis in health education and community organizing: A case study of an adolescent prevention program. In M. Minkler (Ed.), Community organizing and community building for health (2nd ed., pp. 218-236). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.