Laurie Meschke, associate professor of public health, uses service learning to promote healthy adolescent development in the East Knoxville community through Teens Working for Reform (ToWeR). Meschke employs graduate students as facilitators in the program who benefit from a service learning opportunity to hone their skills in community health assessment and program development and implementation.
The ToWeR curriculum is delivered to students aged 9-18 in four East Knoxville schools: Green Elementary, Sarah Moore Greene Elementary, Vine Middle, and Austin East High schools. The ToWeR includes two 20 hour-developmentally tailored curricula, which include a series of five community assessment and advocacy reports. At the end of the program, area youth and graduate students present their assessments and advocacy efforts to city council members, the city mayor, school administration, the Knoxville police chief and his staff, and their peers.
A program of this magnitude would be difficult to execute without support from community partnerships. Local organizations assisting with the program include Great Schools Partnership (GSP), Knox County Schools, and the Knox County Health Department (KCHD). Over the past three years, GSP funded youth stipends and fieldtrip transportation, UT’s Department of Public Health funded program supplies, youth stipends, and refreshments at university youth retreats and presentations, and public health professionals have served as key informants for the youth and guest speakers in the graduate seminar.
Students who participate in ToWeR have exhibited growth in skills, confidence, teamwork, and contributions to their community. The youth come to appreciate that they can contribute to the well-being of their community and that community members help advance their cause. Given these preliminary successes, ToWeR has been featured at national events including a national training for extension professionals and the UT nutrition colloquium.