University of South Florida


group of activists teaching at a middle school

Building leadership skills one school at a time

In order to educate school-aged youth for future leadership roles, the USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Karen Liller and the Activist Lab students Madison Sanders, Erin Millsapps, Truc Ho, Kanika Chandra and Rolando Trejos conducted a study to examine the role of teaching advocacy and leadership skills to this population.

The study, “Building Advocacy in the Younger Generation Through the Adopt a School Program of the University of South Florida College of Public Health Activist Lab-A Commentary," was published in the Florida Public Health Review in February.

a college aged woman teaching a group of children

A student from the COPH Activist Lab teaching children at Liberty Middle School in Tampa, Fla. during the Adopt a School program. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

Liller, a Distinguished University Health Professor and director of the Activist Lab, said the manuscript was focused on promoting the development of advocacy and leadership skills among youth that can be sustained throughout their lives. 

“We reviewed literature and found there were examples of success stories for youth but wanted to add to the conversation with information about our work in the Activist Lab,” she said. “In this manuscript we described the “Adopt a School” project where we educate middle school and high school students about advocacy and work with them to develop position papers that will lead to positive changes in their schools.”

a group of college students teaching a group of children in school

Students from the COPH Activist Lab teaching children at Liberty Middle School in Tampa, Fla. during the Adopt a School program. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

The Activist Lab is now in its third year of the Adopt a School project and they hope to continue adding more schools and taking their curriculum to new venues.  

For example, in the second year of the program topics addressed were clarification of dress code language on the school’s website and written materials, better maintained restrooms, having first aid kits in classrooms and organizing additional outdoor activities for students.  The students who went through the program are now presenting their guided research and recommendations on these topics to school administration and the Activist Lab will follow-up with these schools next year on the results.

“We hope that by promoting experiential teaching strategies for advocacy to reach middle school and high school students, other colleges and schools of public health will replicate our efforts in their settings,” Liller said. “In fact, it really is my hope that someday there are Activist Labs in all the public health programs so that projects like these can flourish.”

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