From the Vail Daily | January 23, 2024
Nonprofit coalition B.E. Partners engaged a youth advisor to help shape future programming
As mental and behavioral health challenges continue to persist for students, an Eagle County coalition of nonprofits is bringing youth voices into the conversation to find solutions.
As part of a series of community partner presentations for the Eagle County School District Board of Education, at the board’s Jan. 10 meeting, B.E. Partners shared insight from local students in the areas of mental health, substance use, maturation and more.
B.E. Partners — standing for Behavioral Education — was established during the 2018-19 school year to support behavioral education for K-12 students. Today, the coalition includes Bright Future Foundation, Mountain Youth, SpeakUp ReachOut, My Future Pathways, Promoting Empowerment Eagle River (formerly Red Ribbon Project) and the Education Foundation of Eagle County.
Each of these nonprofits provides programming (either in school or outside of school) in an area of behavioral health, specifically:
- Mountain Youth in the areas of healthy decision-making and substance use prevention
- Promoting Empowerment Eagle River in the areas of maturation and sexual health
- SpeakUp ReachOut in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention
- Bright Future Foundation in the areas of healthy relationships and violence prevention
- My Future Pathways in the areas of social-emotional learning and mentoring for AVID youth
The only exception is EFEC, which does not deliver programming but serves as the coalition’s convener. The nonprofit provides administrative and funding support, serves as a liaison with the school district and community and also oversees the youth advisor position.
The youth advisor position was created in 2021 with support from a Colorado Health Foundation grant as a way to “hear from the youth,” said Amy Lewis, representing EFEC.
“It’s definitely been a helpful, a really great vision for the coalition to move beyond just doing the programs, but also listening back about the programs,” Lewis added.
From 2021 to 2023, the coalition hired Eagle Valley High School student Christi San Diego in the role. Since San Diego has since graduated and left for college, the coalition hired Battle Mountain student Gabriella Gallegos to continue the work. The position is supported by a 2024 Eagle County Advancing Systems Change grant.
What students are saying
During the Jan. 10 meeting, San Diego shared some of the insights from her report.
San Diego’s main goal was to “inform the partners from a youth perspective regarding ways to adjust and adapt B.E. programs to the needs, assets, cultures and context presented by underrepresented youth populations.”
To gather this information, San Diego facilitated multiple focus groups — connecting with just over 200 students — based on existing student groups throughout the spring 2023 semester.
“The goal was to hear from the youth populations that were anonymously reporting higher risk behaviors on the bi-annual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. These populations include LatinX, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ youth,” wrote San Diego in her report.
San Diego connected with middle school and high school students in these groups through various in-school and out-of-school programs including schools’ Gay-Straight Alliances, Hope Squads, the district-wide Youth Equity Stewardship peer group, My Future Pathways, CLIMB and more.
In her report, San Diego detailed various insights from students — including those that differed by student population — in terms of mental health and suicide prevention, violence prevention and healthy relationships, maturation and sexual health, as well as substance use prevention and healthy decision making.
Generally speaking, across all student groups and topics, San Diego said that students are seeking knowledge on how to communicate and set healthy boundaries as well as how to say no to peer pressure. She added that students are seeking opportunities to apply their knowledge in more real-world situations, receive more peer-to-peer support and education, and have more trusted adults in schools for one-on-one support.
“Students want to be able to support their friends through their struggles, whatever it may be, but don’t really know how to,” she added.
While the report shares further insights based on topics, showing more specific areas where students are seeking more resources and knowledge, many of the insights fall into these desires from students.
For example, San Diego reported hearing that students want to learn more coping strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety and trauma as well as want to have more open discussions around consent to reinforce that knowledge and apply it in their real lives.
All students asked for more mental health support, she told the board.
Ultimately, San Diego provided specific and general recommendations for implementing what she heard from her peers. This included:
- Creating more opportunities for harm reduction and risk aversion instead of harm prevention and consequences
- Building ways for youth to teach youth and mentorship abilities to make some of these topics “more relevant and relatable to them”
- Working with police officers and Bright Future Foundations “to implement restorative justice more and to talk about intersectionalities between identity, privilege and power”
- Having representations from each B.E. nonprofit in schools regularly as a resource for students, creating safe spaces in schools
- Offering more B.E. programs in out-of-school youth groups
- Providing more life skills education to upperclassmen to better prepare them for life after high school
With San Diego’s work completed, B.E. Partners’ next youth advisor will continue this work forward. Lewis said Gallegos will have “an emphasis on equity, diversity and inclusion and discover ways to connect our parents to the youth perspective in addition to our school district to the youth perspective.”
Gallegos herself told the school board she wants “to find a way to have these programs come in more often, especially for upperclassmen.”
“These programs are very important for building a stronger community, especially with the students,” Gallegos said. “I’m really excited to see what I can do from a student perspective and what I can tell the programs on what they may need to improve upon or change.”