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Compass: Spread the word - Anchorage teens are doing better than you think

Have you ever heard about the bad behaviors that apparently "everyone" does? Don't let these myths deceive you - healthy conduct is actually in the majority.

Just a few years ago, two Eagle River High School students agreed that these common misperceptions needed to be tested. They utilized the Youth Risk Behaviors Survey to create an innovative campaign entitled "Strength of Our Youth.". At the core of the campaign were brochures that exemplified the true colors of Anchorage's teenagers, showing the good that was performed on a daily basis. For example, did you know that 89 percent of Anchorage teens are cigarette free; 79 percent are marijuana free; 66 percent have been alcohol free for the last month; 86 percent have been physically active in the past week; and 83 percent trust one adult other than their parents? These are only a few of many intriguing statistics included on the brochures. High schools distributed them for the first time two years ago, and they illuminated the true strength of our youth. The updated 2013 brochure can be found on www.aydc.org.

These two Eagle River teens weren't the only ones who wanted high school pupils to know this valuable concept. When representatives from the Anchorage School District Student Advisory Board caught wind of this campaign last school year, they committed to take it a few steps further.

Representatives knew that the message was more substantial than any brochure could display. They brainstormed alternatives to further the campaign in a school and classroom setting, ideas that included PA announcements, posters, screensavers, assemblies, and interactive games.

One of the most notable suggestions deriving from a student was to inform the parents as well. Recognizing this recommendation, students created school newsletter inserts to better address an adult audience.

Although students spearheaded this initiative, they aren't the only ones behind it. Recently, Mayor Dan Sullivan proclaimed today, Sept. 26, as Strength of Our Youth Day to honor youth and encourage them to make healthy choices. As part of this proclamation, representatives from East High School have invited the mayor and media to an assembly where they will relay this information in an effort to educate their peers and community.

The most outstanding part of this campaign is that it was created for students, by students. Research shows that students are remarkably influenced by their peers' actions; therefore the communication of positive social norms by their equals will empower them to do the same.

This is something the Anchorage Youth Development Coalition (AYDC) kept in mind when adopting this campaign. They are well aware of the community-supported ASD and United Way of Anchorage-partnered Destination 2020 goals, the 90% graduation rate in particular. In the American Institutes for Research 2012 study for the Association of Alaska School Boards, a key finding was that the number one reason that youth cited for peers dropping out of schools was drug or alcohol use. AYDC, along with ASD Superintendant Ed Graff, the school board and various ASD administrators, believe that this project will help eliminate this statistic.

There is no such thing as "too much" emphasis on Anchorage's youth, as they are Anchorage's future. We want them to learn from each other in order to unite toward this future. By promoting a positive life, we enhance their success, and prove that strong youth are the backbone for a stronger and healthier community.

Tasha Boyer is a junior at Chugiak High School, where she is student body president. She also is president of the Student Advisory Board, student representative to the Anchorage School Board and the lone student representative on the 90% by 2020 Leadership Team. She has worked with the Strength of Our Youth project since last school year.



By TASHA BOYER