Elevating Student Voices through a Youth Advisory Board

Boston Public Schools, Massachusetts

To increase student voice and engagement in health education and create youth-led resources, Boston Public Schools, with CDC support, created the Empowering Teens Through Health Youth Advisory Board.

The Boston Public Schools’ student-led advisory group, named the “Empowering Teens Through Health Youth Advisory Board” (YAB), was developed to increase student voices in school-based health promotion activities while building student leadership skills. The pandemic-related challenges of the 2020-2021 school year made it even more important to engage students in school-based efforts that impact them and their peers. This work was a collaborative effort between the district’s Offices of Health and Wellness, Health Services, and Equity; a representative from each office also served as an advisor on the Youth Advisory Board.

Boston Public Schools first worked with partners, including the Boston Student Advisory Council and Advocates for Youth, a national nonprofit organization, to make sure they used best practices to build community and engage students through the YAB. Students in grades 6-12 were then informed about YAB through district-wide newsletters and health education teachers.

Group of diverse students studying outdoors

Youth Advisory Boards foster partnerships between youth and adults, give youth an opportunity to make positive change in their schools and communities, and build important leadership skills among youth.

The Youth Advisory Board launched in January 2021 with 17 student board members selected from more than 40 candidates. YAB advisors set a foundation for students through virtual weekly meetings that focused on building community and health knowledge and providing skill-based instruction on topics including public health, health advocacy, and health communication. The YAB then moved to the action stage.

Student members gave feedback on current Boston Public Schools’ health promotion campaigns such as the Condom Accessibility Team, OUT for Safe Schools, and Menstrual Access Program. They also designed their own student-led health campaigns on an important topic of their choice.

Advisors brought in subject matter experts to work with students and provide feedback to make sure that projects were feasible and impactful. Through their chosen campaigns, students:

  • Created an Instagram page to raise awareness on student mental health and to support and empower peers.
  • Assessed school mental health services and the communication of those services and held interviews with school social workers and guidance counselors to get a better understanding of mental health support across the district.
  • Developed, coordinated, and conducted a workshop for educators, families, and students which highlighted the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusive teaching in sexual health education.
  • Designed a webpage on how to be an ally to LGBTQ+ peers.

Board advisors and student board members collaborated and had equal roles in the YAB. With support from advisors, the Youth Advisory Board worked enthusiastically to improve the health and well-being of their student community. Boston Public Schools plans to continue this work to impact positive change for students and the district.

Reflections from Youth Advisory Board Members:

“Health is a universal thing, so it would only make sense that health education is universal as well. Whether it’s social, physical, sexual, or emotional health, we, as humans, all deserve to learn how to take care of ourselves and be healthy people.”

“I just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful year in the YAB program. I was able to apply the knowledge I have of public health and [work] on issues that are important to me to create a workshop that I hoped inspired and taught many people to educate themselves on the issues around them! I would look forward to our meeting every Friday because of the knowledge I would acquire and use to not only finish my project but also make me more aware of things in our community that can be improved! I appreciate everything you have done for us and hope to see you again next year!”