SALSA Health Program Inspires Students

Tamworth, Narrabri and Glen Innes students are taking ownership of their health while motivating their younger classmates as part of a peer-led lifestyle program.

Year 9 and 10 Farrer Memorial Agricultural High, Oxley High, Glen Innes High and Narrabri students trained to become student leaders and learned ways to improve their physical activity, diet and overall wellbeing at two Students As LifeStyle Activists (SALSA) workshops this month.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the SALSA program is in its second year reaching regional areas, thanks to a partnership between HealthWISE and the Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU) of Western Sydney. The program is led by health university students, who teach interactive lessons to year nine and ten students, who then go on to share their knowledge with younger year groups.

“I think the key is that it’s the students delivering it,” PERU project manager Kym Rizzo Liu said. A “brilliant” part of the program, she said, is in the work-ready skills students develop and their exposure to university students pursuing health careers.

More than 300 high school students took part in SALSA across 15 schools in 2023, with 80% saying they’d gained leadership skills and 87% reporting an improvement in their communication skills.

“I enjoyed learning about this program, and I know how much it taught me. And then being able to teach that to other students has further enhanced my knowledge,” University of Newcastle student Sophie Cann said. She felt the impact of the program as the high schoolers asked insightful questions that reflected what they learned.

“It’s a really interesting concept to see how peers can teach other peers, and how beneficial that can be,” she added.

It’s a really interesting concept to see how peers can teach other peers, and how beneficial that can be

Fourth year physiotherapy student Ned Hoath said he appreciated seeing “the flow down effect” in helping the teenagers change their health habits.

The workshops were a mix of competitive games such as ultimate frisbee and group learning activities focused on nutrition and practical health knowledge.

“We’ve been learning about healthy lifestyles in schools, how we can improve our habits around sleeping, eating and exercise,” year 10 Farrer student Liam Griffiths explained.

“I’m excited to pass this down to the year sevens because it teaches them how they can move forward and live a healthy lifestyle, and also have a lot of fun while doing it.”

I'm excited to pass this down to the year sevens because it teaches them how they can move forward and live a healthy lifestyle, and also have a lot of fun while doing it

Glen Innes High students were inspired to consider careers in health at their workshop, where the university students discussed different study and career pathways.

“A lot of the students were really keen to know about uni and they already had ideas of going into health, which is, I think, why they came today,” University of Newcastle physiotherapy student Jess Rivers said.

Charlotte Gabites was also delighted to talk with the high schoolers about her interest in physiotherapy. She said it was nice to bring their knowledge to the bush, “because we need more health professionals out in rural communities”.

Glen Innes High student Tahlia Husband has a strong interest in health and helping others, and aspires to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. She enjoyed learning more about health and was particularly interested in ways to decrease screen time, and healthy food substitutes to improve nutrition.

“I’ve heavily enjoyed it,” said classmate Ryan Key. He was surprised to learn how much sugar is in juice, and the amount of sleep teenagers need to be healthy. Ryan looks forward to teaching the lessons learned to the year seven students, including his younger sister.

Glen Innes student Danika Elliott and Narrabri’s Josie Harvey liked learning about setting SMART goals, or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals.

“They’re goals that are reachable, and a guideline to make it easier to get to those goals,” Danika explained. Students set goals for themselves around getting eight to ten hours of sleep, eating more fruit and staying off their phones before bed.

“We learned a lot about healthier habits and ways of living, including screen time… what you eat, what you do, physical activity. We learned about how to be better peer leaders for our younger classes,” year 10 Narrabri student Laura Tuckey explained.

“It was a really enjoyable program, and I really recommend it,” she added.

“They were really kind, respectful and engaging,” University of Newcastle student Charlie Abra said of the Narrabri High students. He appreciated the experience of stretching his public speaking skills in leading the workshop and said SALSA was about forming healthy daily habits.

“I think what really stood out to me today was how well all the kids participated,” fellow Newcastle student Shae Bradford said.

“It was really great to see them really starting to learn how to be good peer leaders and what a healthy lifestyle means.”

As part of the workshops, the teenagers develop an action plan to encourage healthy habits in their school. Last year, Glen Innes High students began a lunch sporting competition. Ideas such as a crunch and sip healthy eating program were considered at this year’s workshop.

Glen Innes High School student support officer Evelyn Harrington said the previous cohort of year nine students “shone” as they presented the content to the younger years, and she looked forward to seeing this year’s group step into their peer leadership roles.

“That was brilliant. So many of the year seven kids just kept coming up to me saying, ‘Can we keep doing it? Can we do it again?’” Evelyn said.

SALSA regional is proudly funded by the NSW Government’s ‘Our Region, Our Voice’ Regional Youth Investment Program.

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