Mikva Challenge Helps Young Health Advocates Make an Impact

August 14, 2013

Spotlight on our friends at Mikva Challenge.

At Healthy Schools Campaign, we work hard to engage all kinds of school stakeholders: principals and administrators; school nurses; dining staff — and of course, students themselves. Students are most impacted by wellness initiatives, and their voices couldn’t be more critical.

Mikva Challenge is one Chicago organization that’s helping young organizers raise their voices for wellness. The non-profit provides young people with opportunities to get involved in civic leadership and democracy, and it’s introducing youth-led wellness teams at a number of Chicago high schools.

Joshua Prudowsky, Health Council Director for Mikva Challenge, knows the importance of including youth voice in creating solutions and policy changes and says: “Youth can lead the charge and put pressure on the administration and engage teachers and peers in administering some of these policy changes around nutrition and physical activity.”

This past school year, Mikva had 22 student-led wellness teams tackling a number of issues. Some created school gardens, started group fitness opportunities, worked on peer-led health education, used the arts to raise awareness about mental health and bullying, created safe spaces for LGBTQ students and much more.

One of Prudowsky’s favorite examples comes from the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, a newer high school on Chicago’s South Side. There, a group called Young Organizers Leading Others (YOLO) demonstrated how their school could raise money without selling sugary snacks. They held breakdancing competitions, fruit sales and even a Valentine’s Day dance for parents and teachers — all ideas that other schools could adapt and make their own.

“It was really led by the students, and they did some pretty elaborate stuff,” Prudowsky says. “So many schools say, ‘We can’t do healthy fundraisers and expect to raise money.’ But they proved you can.”

IHSCA does not have a full fitness room or weight room, so funds raised will finance the equipment. This year, the team will continue to put together healthy fundraisers with a goal of raising $10,000 so that all students can have free access to a quality Fitness Center, and they hope to leave a lasting impact, ensuring that all school fundraisers are healthy ones.

Taft High School’s wellness team also focused on creating a healthy school environment, this time focused on Zumba, yoga and circuit training. More than 40 students participate regularly, and some of the students have even become Zumba instructors. Other projects focused on school food. At Rickover Naval Academy, students ran an extensive survey with taste tests to give more student feedback to school dining services.

The youth wellness teams also hold large-scale trainings for student organizers, most notably the Youth Health Summit, where students led the entire training themselves.

HSC firmly believes that youth can be powerful advocates for change. Thanks to Mikva Challenge for introducing us to an incredible group of young people making Chicago a healthier, safer place for all.