Health Advocacy: A Case Study

Running alongside my #healthed curriculum is a long term project. For the past few semesters the theme has been advocacy as students attend to YRBS data, identify the health behaviors most concerning our school population, and undertake some awesome project based learning.

Student feedback following this project is always positive and over 9 weeks I see and hear my students develop their advocacy voice with many students sharing their frustration when the project ends. These are the ones who I know are likely to continue to advocate for causes in the future.

Through a series of small assignments my students will:

  • Identify an advocacy topic (sleep, stress, depression, relationship safety, and binge drinking are the most common).
  • Interview their peers about their perception of the problem versus the reality.
  • Research the advocacy topic.
  • Undertake mini-actions – talk to teachers, collate resources, create posters, write blog posts.
  • Reflect on their advocacy and create an possible advocacy solution.
  • Script and record a podcast or movie.

If you are considering running an advocacy project and are in need of inspiration, lets take a look at the work being done by HIV.Gov as they prepare for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) on February 7th. Here are some elements that they include in their advocacy work and it will be interesting to observe their efforts next month as they raise awareness for their cause.

A Theme or Hashtag: This year’s NBHAAD theme is “Stay the Course, the Fight is Not Over” and their hashtag is #NBHAAD. I have to admit I haven’t specifically asked my students to create a theme or hashtag but as I have three class periods all working on similar advocacy projects this might be a great way for students to interact with each other. Perhaps each class could suggest hashtags which could be refined down to the chosen hashtags for the quarter. This will allow any social media messages to be part of a larger conversation.

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Graphics: I love the GIF in this tweet.

Converting their messages into graphic form is a popular assignment with my students. We create both posters, and also buttons (I found an old button making machine that just had to be put to use in my health class!).

The nice thing about graphics is that it allows students to adapt health messages and communication techniques to a specific target audience (Performance Indicator 8.12.4). We are a 1:1 iPad school and students will create using Pic Collage, Google Slides and my favorite Canva.

Basic Information: The HIV.Gov blog also suggests that “tweets and posts can include content from our HIV basics section. There you can find facts (and images) about HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Useful in IRL too!” I insist that my students should educate their peers through their advocacy work. Initially they conduct a series of interviews to find out how much their fellow sophomores know about the topic. This is eye opening for my health students as they first come to grips with the idea of perception vs reality. This allows us to have a conversation about the power of perception and how it can shape our behaviors, and also gives my students a better understanding of what direction to take their advocacy work.

And of course, in the act of locating and refining that information my students are demonstrating their ability to access valid sources to enhance health (NHES Standard 3).

Stories and More Stories: For #NBHAAD there are a series of positive video stories detailing the situations of five gay black men living with HIV. The use of storytelling is powerful and it gives a message of hope. It’s important for my students to know that individuals living with STI’s, or mental illness, can still have fulfilling lives. I don’t want them to judge, or think that life is over if you are living with illness or infection.

THIS is a part of the advocacy project that is very powerful. Once my students have identified their advocacy projects I ask them to write a reflection telling me why they chose that particular health concern. My students write with honesty and reveal a lot about their lives through their stories. When a student advocating for binge drinking awareness because they have a parent with alcohol dependency, that’s powerful! When a student shared that they were advocating for increased condom use because they personally knew someone who had passed away from AIDS, you know that will be invested in their project. This is another example of the power of giving students voice and choice through project based learning.

Local Service Providers: For #NBHAAD, they will be raising awareness of locations that will provide tests for HIV. At my school we have two health fairs per year and local service providers come in and share information about how they help the community. I also insist that students share both a school-based, and a community (or web-based) source of help for those seeking help for any of the topics. It has long been my intention that my students also work a booth at our health fair but I’ve never followed through with that…..and so here it is….I’m declaring that i WILL have students working a booth this April. Feel free to check back with me to ensure that I succeeded in this goal!

I’ll be following the work of HIV.Gov as they prepare for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) on February 7th. If you want to receive email updates from their blog (and I recommend signing up for this and similar blogs) you can do so here.


While we are talking health advocacy, particularly the health of the black community, I encourage you to check out this awesome podcast (below) from NPR’s Code Switch. I presented this topic to my students on MLK Day and will use this podcast as a resource with future students. Although much of this was familiar to me, I learned the term ‘weathering’ coined by Arline Geronimus and will use this language next semester.

If your students undertake an advocacy project, or anything similar in your #healthed classrooms I’d love to hear about it. Lets get the conversation going on social media and use the hashtag #healthedPBL

Other blog posts you might like:

Protest Songs – Sharing a list of songs that I’ve been listening to during our recent political events. This post includes a Spotify playlist.

Can We Talk? – A post from last year encouraging students to speak out against injustice.



4 thoughts on “Health Advocacy: A Case Study

  1. Pingback: Student Voices: Podcasting – #slowchathealth

  2. Pingback: The PE Playbook – January 2018 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  3. Pingback: Canva in the Classroom – #slowchathealth

  4. Pingback: Hot Health Topics 2020 – #slowchathealth

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