Home BLOG and EVENTS Blog Articles Helping People, Changing Lives: Empowering Teens at Santa Maria High School

Helping People, Changing Lives: Empowering Teens at Santa Maria High School

Project Teen Health participants at Santa Maria High School are advocating for healthier cafeteria food on campus!

Youth participants from CAPSLO's Project Teen Health (PTH) Club at Santa Maria High School submitted and were awarded a grant request from the Fund for Santa Barbara's Youth Making Change grant program to launch a school wellness intiative this past February.

Members of the Project Teen Health Club had improved their knowledge of healthy nutrition through participating in PTH programming, and felt the need to advocate for healthier food options in their school cafeteria based on what they had learned. Each month PTH Club Members hosted a booth with food samples providing education about different health topics such as Rethink Your Drink and MyPlate. They also posted motivational and educational messages about fitness in the bulletins and on posters around campus.

A new state law mandates that every public school have a wellness policy, and Santa Maria High School did not have one yet. PTH Club members educated their peers, created awareness about the law and recruited advocates to attend the district's first-ever Wellness Policy Meeting. With support from staff and their Youth Making Change grant, PTH Club students created a survey about the cafeteria food on campus and received 175 responses. They presented the results at Santa Maria Joint Union School District's inaugural Wellness Policy Committee meeting in front of a variety of school staff, community members, a school board member, and the district's assistant superintendent.

The survey found that 72% of the students reported eating regularly in the cafeteria. The top three words used to describe food served in the cafeteria: Nasty, OK, and Unhealthy. Students reported salads and sandwiches were "the best options" eaten in the cafeteria because they appear more "real" and they can be customized. The worst foods in the cafeteria? Nachos, popcorn shrimp, and fried fish. Changes students wanted to see included more fresh food cooked in the school kitchen, fresh fruit options such as watermelon, strawberries, and fruit cups, and a larger variety of food throughout the week.

Based on the results from the survey, PTH Club youth hope to provide nutrition facts on foods in the cafeteria so students can make more informed choices. They also reached out to the Food Services Director to share feedback and advocate for change. PTH Club will continue to review policy language and promote to students by giving other district high schools the school lunch survey, inviting them to report at the next meeting, and invite ASB officers to the next meeting. In addition, two PTH Club youth will be serving on their district's new Wellness Policy Committee.

While it is too soon to tell what institutional changes to cafeteria food might come from these efforts, the students involved with the PTH Club are empowered and will be able to transfer these new found presentation and advocacy skills on campus and throughout their community.