TULSA, OK – One way that ImpactTulsa works to realize a more equitable Tulsa is by centering the voices and authority of youth, families, and communities. This is done by creating solutions together and engaging in codevelopment to ensure that strategies and practices are not done to, but instead, with and alongside those who are most impacted. ImpactTulsa implements StriveTogether’s national Theory of Action in our work and teams, which is demonstrated in the following youth initiative.
Beginning in Spring of 2022, ImpactTulsa supported the formation of youth actions teams (YATs) within the Union, Broken Arrow, and Tulsa Public School districts. These YATs serve to amplify youth agency and establish systems change through the design and implementation of solutions. Specifically, they will address perceived mental health and identity challenges that limit access and opportunities to postsecondary pathways.
“Mental health has a direct correlation to one losing their identity, as mental health disorders/disabilities like ADHD, depression, and anxiety can interfere with students’ work ethic and motivation. It leads them to lose interest in their hobbies, social life with friends and family, and place in life,” explains Isaiah, a senior YAT member at Broken Arrow. “This issue is a top priority for our team as this could bring more awareness to teachers about their student’s struggles in school or domestically, and have the school provide more aid to those students who are in need of guidance.”
Students also commented on how mental health can impact postsecondary success with regard to ethnic/racial identity disparities and stereotypes. “I believe that many people of color do not see themselves in postsecondary education in general, which leads them to feel as if they don’t belong there or that they are not good enough to be there. It’s rather crushing to have dreams and feel that they’re impossible to achieve not because of something you did but because of the way you are fundamentally, which you cannot change,” shared Renee, a junior at Union High School. “I think it’s important for people to know that it is possible, that they are welcomed and wanted, and that they have a place in postsecondary schools.”
This Tulsa Challenge Series was formed and adapted from a successful pilot co-led by one of ImpactTulsa’s StriveTogether Network Partners, The Commit Partnership of Dallas County. Originally granted $30,000 to develop its own project to increase postsecondary access and opportunities in Tulsa County, ImpactTulsa decided to provide micro grants to youth who are experts of the issues that impact them. Following the guiding principles of Student Powered Improvement, a cross-district youth action team was formed to lead qualitative research to understand the perceived barriers to postsecondary access and opportunities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through analyzing the data, students were able to group barriers into 4 themes:
- Meaningful, Timely, and Relevant Information
- Effective Goal-Setting
- Mental Health and Identity
In selecting the theme most relevant for participating schools to focus on, all three YATs chose Mental Health and Identity. Each district received a $10,000 grant to minimize financial barriers in developing and carrying out effective and sustainable solutions.
During the last few months, Tulsa-area students have worked to collect and review data to better understand the root causes of mental health and identity issues as they appear at their respective schools and set goals for desired outcomes. This semester, students are tasked with putting their ideas into action, equipped with the financial resources to ideally make successful tests of change more permanent.
Sophie, a YAT member at Broken Arrow, shared that they hope to achieve their main objective of bringing more counseling services to Broken Arrow High School in order to reduce anxiety and depression among students that can be connected to a loss in a sense of purpose and identity. “Our plan is currently still in the blueprints but we are confident of its future…being in the YAT has made me more cognizant of the student body and compelled me to make a lasting impact on my community.”
When asked what they hope to achieve by the end of the school year, students at East Central High School commented that as leaders, they hope to help other students like them, to “create a space where students feel safe and can get the help they need.”