Dorez Wynn, an 8th grader at Wendell Middle School, visited the N.C. State Legislature on Wednesday morning with nine other classmates, to learn about and advocate for adolescent health.
Around 150 advocates from across the state – 75 percent of them youth – gathered to listen and talk to legislators about access to care, mental health and pregnancy prevention.
Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina heads up Adolescent Health Advocacy Day during each long session, bringing in health experts, congressmen and student advocates to speak about improving student health and access to care for adolescents ages 11-24.
The goal of the event is to connect students with the legislature as much as to push health laws, said APPCNC spokesperson Elizabeth Finley. She said some former student attendees now were lobbyists and advocates as adults.
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The middle schoolers were some of the youngest in attendance, filling up seats beside high schoolers and college students from organizations like Planned Parenthood, East Carolina University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Thomasville Communities in Schools.
Many of the older students had scheduled meetings with their representatives to push health-related causes close to their hearts.
“I learned more about how to help my friends,” Wynn said. “I have more background (on these issues), so my friends can have someone to talk to...so they can hear about pregnancy and sex from a person their age and understand that better.”
WMS 7th grade counselor Tonya Mitchell brought the 7th- and 8th-grade students to the event to gain more information about adolescent health and bring the information back to their peers.
“I saw them taking a lot of notes,” she said.
She said the goal of having the students attend the event was for them to better grasp a life and work balance under the pressures students face. Mitchell was also hoping they could begin to develop their personal advocacy skills.
“They have a lot of brilliant ideas,” she said.
Distric 113 Rep. Chris Whitmire, District 49 Sen. Terry Van Duyn, District 32 Rep. Nathan Baskerville and District 17 Sen. Tamara Barringer all mentioned health issues they felt strongly about.
Teenagers on the student panel took almost a tragic tone in discussing their experience with health in schools.
Anthony Jones, a senior at Westover High School in Fayetteville said that he watched a friend have a seizure in a classroom, with no school nurse available to help.
Courtney Rhew, who attends Northern High School in Durham, said entering high school she had little help with her depression within the school system.
“I didn’t want to go to teachers because the stigma is so terrible,” she said. “If schools had a psychologist ... it would be a lot better for everyone.”
Ramya Krishna, a student at the City of Medicine Academy in Durham, had the audience applauding.
“Just because we’re 16 doesn’t mean we’re not people,” she said. “We all have problems.”
Dawson Hughes, a WMS 8th grader, said that though he’s in currently in health class, he got a bigger picture at the legislature. He plans to bring the information back to his friends.