A recent study from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health showed an arts-based youth program was effective in promoting health education and student engagement.
The study focused on the impacts of The Bigger Picture, or TBP, project, a health program for youth using spoken word poetry in an online format, according to assistant research professor at the School of Public Health Hannah Thompson.
“We had evaluated the Bigger Picture project in the past, but in the in-school environment when schools were in session and in person,” Thompson said. “This was really to evaluate the program one with this new span.”
This online format focused on new prevalent health issues, including COVID-19 rather than Type 2 diabetes, which was their primary focus before the pandemic, according to Thompson.
The key difference between the TBP project and other Youth Speaks programs, the feeder organization for TBP, is the focus on youth interaction and empowerment, Thompson noted. TBP wants to distance itself from individual-focused behavior changes and transition to a broader focus on the social determinants of health.
“The arts-based program really enabled students to think more broadly, more freely and more creatively around these topics and then sort of engage at a level in a way that felt powerful and important to them,” Thompson said.
To test the program’s effectiveness, the researchers performed a quasi-randomized study, Thompson noted. The study involved observing and comparing three groups of students at three different schools who participated in the new TBP project, versus the traditional Youth Speaks program.
The Youth Speaks program was similarly based on spoken word poetry but lacked a specific health focus, Thompson added.
“Students who were in the Bigger Picture schools demonstrated some increases in their knowledge around the social determinants of health and disease and also really increased their reporting of their interest and future willingness to engage civically,” Thompson said.
The study found the online format of the TBP project was very successful, according to Thompson. The researchers observed students were engaged in the program and enjoyed the experience more than a traditional classroom environment, she added.
Further, Thompson noted that Berkeley students who are interested in education, teaching and the arts can learn from this study. She said an engaged, pedagogical approach, as opposed to a more traditional lecture format, can prompt youth to become more active and interested participants.
“When you allow students to better interact with the material or the subject matter and also to really engage with each other, I think that’s a stronger approach for learning and especially online contexts,” Thompson said.