Youth Voice: How Small Steps Can Lead to Positive, Healthy Change

Tyler Norris

In 2015, I was a freshman starting high school in Gaffney, South Carolina, afraid of people and the fact that everyone was bigger than me. I knew that I wanted to find a strong community, and I knew the only way to get there was to put in the work and help has much as I could. 

I told myself, “If I don’t try, will anybody else?”

One day I heard about Power Hour, an afterschool student workout group led by a teacher I had heard so many good things about, Mrs. Cody. I started to go to Power Hour every Tuesday and Thursday, doing things like boxing and yoga.

I soon noticed she had a student in a wheelchair that she needed to work with a little more, so I started to lead the workouts when she needed to help him. Mrs. Cody noticed, so she started to give me more responsibility. I started to lead the whole workout, coming up with routines after researching good workouts at home.

After a while, we realized we needed to think bigger.

From Practice to Policy

runTogether, Mrs. Cody and I started working on a school wellness policy. After doing some research, Mrs. Cody and I saw that kids who were eating unhealthy had lower focus. 

They were more prone to get off task and not fully understand what was going on in class.

On the other hand, kids who did eat healthier were doing better in school. We also learned that obesity rates in my district were off the charts. 

A lot of students were obese because they didn’t have a different option at home. They just ate what they could. 

So we created a guidebook, full of these facts to back up our health goals. Using the previous wellness policy as a layout, we made it better and healthier. 

Ultimately, we tried to help out future generations coming through our district to help them get a better education and get healthier. 

Going National with Fuel Up to Play 60

One day, Mrs. Cody pulled me aside to ask if I would be interested in a program called Fuel Up To Play 60, a nation-wide school nutrition and exercise program to improve health and wellness for kids. The program challenges kids to eat healthier, fuel up, and get outside and play for 60 minutes a day.

I did some research on the organization and saw they were working for the same thing that I was working towards: a healthier generation. 

Are you (or do you know) a young person between the ages of 18-24 with a story to tell? Email Eva Harder at [email protected]!

Together, Mrs. Cody and I worked on my application to become an Ambassador for South Carolina for the Fuel Up To Play 60 National Summit. I was selected and got to go to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, where I received leadership training and lessons on teamwork. 

The other students and I learned that if you’re in a group, you can’t get anywhere without teamwork. I learned that to be an effective leader, you don’t need to yell. I like to lead softly.

 I use these lessons whenever I lead groups at school or events that get kids to come out and get active.

I also learned that my main goal in life is to make my generation better and healthier. And for change to happen, we young people have to voice our opinions and make ourselves heard.

Voices from Small Towns Matter Too

panelOver the past few years, I have gotten the chance to work with so many people who have helped me. 

At the same time, however, I have worked with people who have not seen me as someone who can make a difference because I came from a small town.

With those types of people, you have to just keep moving and show them in the end that you do matter.  

I am lucky to be one of the students who is able to speak up. It shows that change can and will happen anywhere. 

People hear a lot about people speaking out in big cities, but I would like to prove that people in small towns like Gaffney have voices that need to be heard too. 

It’s a little harder for us in smaller communities, because we do not have as many people or as much publicity. To anyone out there that feels like they cannot get their word out, keep trying. 

As youth, we have to get our word out. Your voice is important. Use it to make the world a better place. Even a small step matters. You never know where it will lead.

Every school should be a healthy school.  Learn more about the Together for Healthy and Successful Schools initiative at America’s Promise Alliance