Pupils at the Regis School have graduated from a groundbreaking project designed to help them improve their health and that of their classmates.
Following a short training programme, 28 students from Year 8 at the school have spent the last year supporting their friends as peer mentors, offering them advice to stay safe and healthy.
The project has focused on smoking and the benefits of being smokefree, with the group of students able to offer their classmates advice on why they shouldn’t start and the impact smoking has on their health.
Working with young people to help each other
The project at the Regis School is part of an innovative new programme run by NHS West Sussex in partnership with Sussex Community NHS Trust, to reach young people with health advice and information but via the people they listen to the most.
The 28 pupils were selected by their classmates as the most influential students in their year group.
They then received two days of training from NHS professionals, learning the latest health information, exploring the benefits of not smoking, and discussing the myths and reasons why some people may choose to smoke. They were also given support and training on how to approach their peers and how to support them to make the right decisions.
Already making a difference
One of the students who took part said: “It was good to learn about smoking and all the side effects it causes. It was enjoyable with all the activities as it gave us a better understanding of the dangers. I will never smoke after doing this project.”
Caroline Saunders, Assistant Headteacher at the Regis School, said: “It has been fantastic to be involved in a project that will have such long term effects for all those involved. The students that took part should be much less likely to ever take up smoking and we know that already they have managed to convince family and friends to give up. This has been a great opportunity for all those involved.”
Helping young people not to start smoking
Anna Kirk, Tobacco Control lead for NHS West Sussex said: “We are delighted to be funding and running this project in West Sussex. The school has fully embraced the opportunity to take part and the students that have taken part have been incredible. They have really taken on the challenge to talk to their friends and classmates about what they have learnt and help each other to staying healthy. We know that across West Sussex young people are experimenting with smoking. Latest figures show that by the age of 14 and 15, 10% of girls and 8% of boys across the county say they regularly smoke. But we want to do all we can to support young people not to start smoking in the first place.”
“For young people smoking is a group activity, and one of the best predictors that a young person will start smoking is if their friends already are. What this project is working to achieve is to show young people that there are other options – choices they can make together which can help them all to stay healthy for longer. This has been an exciting opportunity and one we hope to use in other schools in West Sussex in the next year.”