Reimagining How To Serve Young People in a Pandemic

Posted October 30, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
four young people of color, framed in boxes against a green background

In 2020, Peer Health Exchange was deliv­er­ing health instruc­tion to high schools across 11 states. When the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic hit, the nation­al non­prof­it had to rethink its strat­e­gy to con­tin­ue direct­ly reach­ing stu­dents. The orga­ni­za­tion turned to its experts — young peo­ple — to help find solu­tions. The feed­back was clear: Reach us online.

With fund­ing from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Peer Health Exchange devel­oped a vir­tu­al heath edu­ca­tion pro­gram that lever­aged dig­i­tal plat­forms — its Tik­Tok account and self­sea, a pro­pri­etary mobile app — and doc­u­ment­ed the imple­men­ta­tion and results of its adapt­ed model.

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing Youth Voic­es in Pro­gram Devel­op­ment, Imple­men­ta­tion and Evaluation

Peer Health Exchange pri­or­i­tized youth input as it revamped its strat­e­gy. Amid COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Peer Health Exchange turned to the social net­work Tik­Tok, gen­er­at­ing videos of young peo­ple deliv­er­ing health-relat­ed messages.

In 2021, it launched the self­sea app to con­nect youth with health resources and infor­ma­tion. The orga­ni­za­tion trained high school stu­dents in trau­ma-informed app design and sought their advice on the product’s user expe­ri­ence. Young peo­ple share their sto­ries via record­ings that cov­er a range of top­ics such as men­tal health, sex­u­al health and social-emo­tion­al well-being among others.

Youth con­tin­ue to shape the app’s evo­lu­tion, with Peer Health Exchange teach­ing young users how to help eval­u­ate the over­all effec­tive­ness of self­sea. It also seeks their input on the acces­si­bil­i­ty and cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­van­cy of each new health resource added. With promis­ing ini­tial data, the orga­ni­za­tion plans to under­take a new eval­u­a­tion of its dig­i­tal work.

The Reach of Dig­i­tal Health Resources

This piv­ot to dig­i­tal resources dra­mat­i­cal­ly increased the non­prof­it’s impact and reach. Today, Peer Health Exchange’s posts have topped 9 mil­lion views on Tik­Tok — with 72% of young peo­ple sur­veyed report­ing that the con­tent increased their health knowl­edge — and self­sea now boasts more than 330,000 users.

Peer Health Exchange has done an amaz­ing job of piv­ot­ing dur­ing the pan­dem­ic to sus­tain and expand its work,” says Sol Espinoza, a senior asso­ciate in Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. It’s excit­ing to see how they have worked close­ly with young peo­ple to both design and eval­u­ate their new dig­i­tal prod­ucts, which are attract­ing the atten­tion of hun­dreds of thou­sands of youths.”

Learn more about the impor­tance of ele­vat­ing youth voic­es in the classroom

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