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Constellation Project a Real SCORE for Mississippi Youth

By Faith Stanley
School of Journalism and New Media Students

Mississippi consistently ranks last or almost last in the U.S., across almost every health outcome. Health disparities in the state are often worse among people who live in poverty, belong to minority populations, or have other characteristics linked to discrimination or exclusion.

To help combat and learn more about health issues affecting Mississippi, Project SCORE engages Mississippi high school students from communities with significant health disparities by developing relevant health behavior research questions from the students themselves.

Project SCORE, which stands for Student Centered Outcomes Research Project, is led by Marie Barnard, assistant professor of Pharmacy Administration.

“The goal is to recruit a cohort of high school students and recruit graduate health science students that can serve as peer mentors to high school students,” she said. “We expose them to health promotion and health education research using social behavior research methodology.”

In a state with many poor health outcomes, high school students also are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors including unhealthy diets, low exercise, smoking and other unhealthy health behaviors, she said.

Although many health researchers identify health concerns and conduct research without getting youth input, Project SCORE gathers their data in a different way. SCORE allows the students to take the wheel by identifying the problems and health issues that matter to them, Barnard said.

“The students lead the charge and we follow them by giving the students skills and background to help address issues that interest them,” she said. “First, the students identify issues that concern them, and then research questions are developed around the issues that were brought forward.”

Each month, Jackson-area high school students, health science graduate students, and faculty from the University of Mississippi and University of Mississippi Medical Center meet at Stewpot Community Services in Jackson, for workshops relevant to the project.

The team sets up after-school, health science workshops once a month for the high school students that have covered the scientific method, youth participatory action research, and social behavior research methods, she said. The graduate students involved in the project have taught the workshops.

High school students learn about social behavioral science and build a mentoring relationship with the graduate students, Barnard said. Not only can the students learn from the graduate students, but the graduate students learn from the students as well.

Evi Addoh, a graduate student involved in Project SCORE said Project SCORE has a lot to offer to high school students.

“Participating in the workshops increased their inquisitiveness. One student mentioned that several of his classmates use vapes, and he is certain vaping was entirely healthy. By the end of the workshop, he said he would like to research more about how vaping may affect his health.”

Students first identified things that matter to them, and now they are developing projects about some of these issues, including bullying, gambling, and gun violence, Addoh said.

Project SCORE plans to finish the year with a pilot program and then look for external funding to continue the project, Barnard said. Because of Project SCORE, students are introduced to possible careers in health sciences and research, while the researchers are learning more about the issues that high school students face in their everyday lives.

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