Capital of the United States
Home to the National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, White House, National World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Total population: 632,323
50.7% Black/African American
3.5% Asian American
0.3% American Indian
9.1% Hispanic/Latino of any race
Median household income: $61,835
Through many different grants and a variety of programs, Kid Power, Inc., serves about 350 low-income students in grades two through eight in Washington, D.C. About 80 percent of youth served are African American, 16 percent Hispanic/Latino, 2 percent African, and 2 percent Asian and other. Most of the youth come from low-income, single-parent households. The concepts undergirding the MSY Program are consistent with those of Kid Power, particularly those relating to lack of awareness of and access to fresh food.
Because Kid Power’s MSY Programs all occurred in school settings (equipped with kitchens and garden beds), recruitment was not as much of an issue as was generating excitement about the program. Patrick DiSalvo, middle school director and MSY Program coordinator, used innovative “selling points,” such as explaining that fruit kabobs are fun to make and healthy, as well as reminding youth why whole-wheat quesadillas are a healthier choice.
Bailey Schrock, coordinator at Chavez Prep and MSY Program facilitator, taught one session of the MSY Program at a middle school located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., a heavily Hispanic/Latino community. Her sixth- and seventh-grade MSY students were mostly bilingual (many with monolingual parents) and from low- to lower middle-income families.
Kid Power staff implemented the MSY Program, with youth already enrolled in Kid Power’s daily after-school program, at four locations: (1) Cesar Chavez Prep (Columbia Heights neighborhood), (2) Prospect Learning Center (Benning Road neighborhood), (3) Jefferson Middle School (Southwest Waterfront neighborhood), and (4) Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School (Petworth community).
Kid Power is a civics-based organization that provides academic, nutritional, and service-learning opportunities for 350 youth (ages 7–18) in underserved neighborhoods in the District of Columbia (Wards 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8).
MSY staff included Kid Power site coordinators, Kid Power site associates (college-age students through the Federal Work Study Program), an American University film group, a part-time video consultant, and volunteers.
Staff communicated the details of the MSY Program to parents, teachers, and students through Kid Power’s monthly newsletter and flyers at each site. Key MSY facilitators recruited parents to participate in several MSY lessons, which increased families’ understanding of the MSY Program’s key topics and their adoption of healthy habits and media awareness at home.
At each of the four sites, staff implemented MSY lessons twice a week in 35- to 45-minute segments over 12 to 14 weeks. Staff slightly modified the MSY schedule to allow students to participate in mandatory after-school “academic power-hour” and dinner required by the schools. Students at each site worked on their Big Production for 2 weeks.
“The final product was a parody of the song, ‘Sexy and I Know It,’ which was changed to, ‘Healthy and I Know It.’”
Bailey Schrock, Facilitator
Staff implemented the MSY lessons in classroom settings, occasionally using larger gyms and cafeterias for review games and physical activities. Often, staff delivered a lesson introduction to the whole group and then divided the group into small groups matched by grade and academic skill. When students became restless, staff increased small group instruction and hands-on activities, including gardening. The Jefferson Middle School site participated in Global Youth Service day, where MSY youth taught 100 outside students about healthy vegetables and fruits and their nutritional value.
Youth and Community Response to the Media-Smart Youth Program
Youth participants most liked the Big Production, for which they created a parody of the song “Sexy and I Know It” by changing the lyrics to “Healthy and I Know It.” Program participants each identified an area in which they excelled in developing the Big Production, including writing lyrics, running cameras, acting, and singing. Students from the American University film school also assisted with the program’s Mini-Productions. They showed program participants how to use production equipment, the process of production, how they can change production details, and what “b-roll” is and how to use it. The college students filmed MSY participants dancing their own interpretation of the “Harlem Shake.”
MSY Program participants liked having visual references, so Ms. Schrock brought some of her own media examples. She also invented a freeze tag game where each time she asked the students to “freeze,” she stated aloud a high-fat and high-sugar food. The students then had to generate a healthier food alternative. Some participants enjoyed the media aspects of MSY, including considering how often they interact with media on a daily basis and matching logos with companies (the latter was an activity that Ms. Schrock put together). Participants enjoyed sharing and demonstrating their “hidden” daily physical activities, such as when they walk to school.
Youth participants least enjoyed the whole-grain activity where they moved across the room to act out the milling process (“it was too simplified”). Also, students were very tired one day because they had earlier taken the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System standardized test. This made it difficult for youth to sit or focus on explanations. “The after-school setting is a challenge at times. They’ve been listening to teachers all day long. They are ready to play,” explained Ms. Schrock.
Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned
“This Global Youth Service Day youth-initiated activity shared Media-Smart Youth messages to 100 peers!”
Patrick DiSalvo, Coordinator
Mr. DiSalvo learned that the most useful partners are people with whom Kid Power already collaborates. Schools with an established relationship with Kid Power offered their facilities, teachers at these schools offered to help, and volunteers assisted with MSY Program facilitation. One example that illuminates how an established partner can help spread MSY messages is a station that participants set up during Global Youth Service Day 2013 (a day of service dedicated to youth). These participants ran one MSY game where players reached into a bag to feel and smell fruits and vegetables and tried to guess the contents without looking. The youth took this game a step further by conducting research on interesting factoids that they relayed to players during the game. One fact that the participants found on their own, for example, was, “A kiwi has three times the amount of vitamin C than does an orange.” Youth enjoyed sharing such information with event attendees. Mr. DiSalvo exclaimed, “This youth-initiated activity shared MSY messages to 100 peers!”
Mr. DiSalvo noted that youth are “already good at using media, but analyzing media was new to them.” One participant returned to a later session sharing that he had observed that less healthy cereal is packaged in bright colors and placed at a person’s eye level at the supermarket. Youth enjoyed analyzing food labels and YouTube videos of fast food commercials. Physical activity “is always successful,” and Mr. DiSalvo had to adapt the physical activity lessons to include more of them, given that youth had been in school all day. He also adapted the nutrition lessons to make them less discussion-heavy and more about self-discovery. For example, Mr. DiSalvo and his staff printed Nutrition Facts labels from whole-wheat products (e.g., brown rice, wheat pasta) and refined products (e.g., white bread), cut them into pieces, and placed them into an envelope. Youth had to assemble the separate pieces by matching healthy parts together and less healthy parts together, like a jigsaw puzzle.
Even though Ms. Schrock had a 2-hour time slot with students, 30 minutes were dedicated to homework and 30 minutes were committed to free time. The MSY Program, moreover, had to be integrated with other curricula requirements as well as enrichment classes, including yoga, dance, and soccer. Therefore, the facilitator devoted no more than 60 minutes to each MSY lesson. Ms. Schrock purposefully shortened each MSY lesson to maintain students’ attention. She explained, “The students got restless during a lot of the talking points and statistics in the introductions. I had to paraphrase and summarize the paragraphs so we could get to the moving and doing. To maintain students’ attention, they need to be more active.”
Because enough chaperones were not available for a trip to a local supermarket, Ms. Schrock modified this activity by bringing supermarket items to the youth to examine after school.
Her greatest success was in facilitating a media conversation on examples of media and reasons people use those media. Ms. Schrock believed this discussion went well because it provided an opportunity for youth to showcase their knowledge of movies, social media, and the Internet in general.
Recommendations for Future Implementations of the Program
Mr. DiSalvo thinks that peer teaching and building on existing programs and campaigns (e.g., recycling, composting) across numerous small-scale grants is the way to spread MSY messages. “This is how the word gets spread from a classroom of 20 to 25 kids to 200 kids.” His advice to future MSY Program coordinators includes thoroughly reviewing the curriculum, figuring out ways to tailor the curriculum to one’s unique youth population, and integrating hands-on and youth-initiated activities into the lessons, even if this means cutting an MSY lesson short.
Ms. Schrock observed that 90 minutes is “a very long lesson for students in an after-school program” and recommended that each MSY lesson be structured around 40 minutes to meet the needs of sixth- and seventh-graders. She also recommended “breaking down the Big Production” because she found it to be “a bit overwhelming.” Ms. Schrock plans to teach certain MSY facts and ideas in the future by integrating them into other curricula. She thinks that the MSY Program would be most successful if implemented during the regular school day, such as in an exercise and nutrition science class, at summer school/camp, or spring break. Her advice to future MSY facilitators: “I suggest that they make sure they’re familiar with the materials and be able to make adjustments on short notice. Something always comes up with students.”
On June 26, 2013, Kid Power’s Executive Director presented MSY Program outcomes and shared the website link at a community meeting hosted by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and with representatives of at least 15 leaders of nonprofit organizations.
Kid Power extended MSY lessons into 2013 summer activities and will integrate them into the 2013–2014 academic year. Kid Power is going to supplement its VeggieTime curriculum with some of MSY’s materials and activities, particularly those relating to media, whole grains, and food labels. Kid Power has secured funds from the Subaru Foundation and the Harry Chapin Foundation to continue to integrate these sections of the MSY Program with its VeggieTime program.