SALSA students dance to a healthier beat

An online peer-led leadership program is helping students build healthier school communities while learning some valuable skills for life.

Image: Students from Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School were one of two schools to pilot an online delivery model of the program.

A popular lifestyle program, Students as LifeStyle Activists (SALSA), that uses students to teach their peers the importance of living an active and healthy lifestyle has gone digital in response to the pandemic.

SALSA is an initiative of the Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU) within the Western Sydney Local Health District and has been running in high schools in Western Sydney since 2005.

The program involves university students training Year 10 students as peer leaders to deliver four structured lessons to Year 8 students on living and leading a healthy lifestyle. The lessons complement content in the PDHPE syllabus and focus on educating students about making healthier food choices and increasing their physical activity.

Students use their voice and become “agents of change” by developing and implementing an action plan to promote healthy activities at their school.

Director of PERU Clinical Associate Professor Smita Shah said the program focused on giving students an active role in their school community.

“We want to build capacity of students to advocate for change in their schools and the broader community,” A/Professor Shah said.

Benefits to the program included students furthering their leadership and communication skills, while learning the importance of teamwork.

This year, due to restrictions from the pandemic, organisers got creative to ensure they could continue delivering the program to schools.

The SALSA team formed a partnership with the NSW Education’s Foundations.T4L unit to develop online modules that could be delivered virtually to Year 10 students using Zoom. The students then have access to an online hub of resources and lesson plans to deliver to their Year 8 peers.

The one-day online training program was trialled at Chifley College Mount Druitt Campus and Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School with significant success.

Noelene Callaghan from Foundations.T4L unit was impressed with the high levels of engagement shown by students throughout the full-day, online workshop.

“Seeing students captivated by the activities in the program and being engaged for an entire day is a testament that students can learn online if the tasks are structured and planned well,” Ms Callaghan said.

Year 10 student Romany from Chifley College Mount Druitt enjoyed working with classmates during the workshop and thought it was an informative session.

“The information we learned on that day was both practical and applicable to our own day-to-day life and presented to us in an engaging, enjoyable manner. I look forward to passing it on to year eight students,” Romany said.

The program is expected to reach more students in Term 4 with online delivery planned for schools in regional NSW.

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