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Growing UP great

Locally based‚ federally funded‚ and internationally tapped‚ the Healthy Youth Development-Prevention Research Center teams with community partners to create‚ test‚ and spread the word about strategies for helping young people grow up strong.

Eighth graders at Nellie Stone Hognson Community School, including Timeshia Chandler and Destinee Carr, packaged rice for hungrey kids in Malawi as part of the Lead Peace service learning program.

Adolescence can be a rough ride. Helping to make it smoother is the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Youth Development-Prevention Research Center (HYD-PRC)‚ a collaboration between the Medical SchoolSchool of Nursing‚ and School of Public Health.

Housed in the Department of Pediatrics Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health‚ the center is one of 33 PRCs established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better align public health research with community needs.

“Partnering with communities‚ as opposed to doing to communities‚ is central to who we are‚” says center director and professor of pediatrics Michael Resnick, Ph.D. “Whatever the project might be‚ the goal is to undertake activities that are community driven.”

Lead Peace is a violence-prevention research and demonstration effort begun in 2006 in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools‚ Village Social Services‚ and Kwanzaa Community Church. Middle-school students participate in service learning and related activities over three years. Surveys will determine the impact.

“The hypothesis we are testing is that this kind of positive involvement can replace some of the bullying and aggressive behavior that kids might use when they don’t get positive recognition‚” says Renee Sieving, Ph.D., M.S.N., of the Center for Adolescent Nursing and principal investigator for the project. “What we hope to see is that positive engagement helps to reduce their bullying and violence and helps to bump up their general commitment and success in school.”

HYD-PRC community partners recently identified another need: to build awareness among policymakers of the importance of effective evidence-based sex education. HYD-PRC responded by polling parents statewide about their attitudes regarding sex education in schools.

“We found that an overwhelming majority of parents across socioeconomic‚ political‚ and religious groups want medically accurate sex education … as long as it includes abstinence‚ ways of saying no‚ and ways [youth can] protect themselves if they do have sex‚” Resnick says.

True to PRC form‚ that was not the end of the project.The research team has disseminated the results to school superintendents‚ teachers‚ health professionals‚ and legislators.

Resnick says though HYD-PRC research questions are generated locally‚ the results often have national or even international impact.

“What we are talking about is the opportunities and the experiences that young people have that help them to become capable and caring human beings‚” he says. “If young people become active‚ engaged people as adolescents‚ learn to develop new skills‚ then use those skills to be of help and service to others‚ they are much more likely to be engaged adults throughout the rest of their lives.”

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