2020 Grants Challenge

Empowering LA's Youth to Make Healthy Decisions

With LA2050’s support, Peer Health Exchange will train nearly 315 college student volunteers to teach a 14-week skills-based health program to over 3,350 9th grade students in under-resourced communities across LA. Through our skill-based curriculum we aim to increase help-seeking behavior for high school students experiencing poor mental health.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

East LA

San Fernando Valley

South LA

South Bay

LAUSD (please select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

As an organization committed to advancing health equity, PHE works with under-resourced high schools where the majority of students are living in poverty. Our main partners are the 18 high schools we teach at from PUC, Green Dot, Alliance, Environmental, Vaughn, and LAUSD school systems. We plan to expand our geographic reach into communities adjacent to South LA including South Bay, Compton, Paramount, Lynwood by adding 3 additional high schools in the next school year.

We also have strong partnerships with our college partners, that include: CSUN, CSUDH, Occidental College, and University of Southern California, and have student leaders, along with program staff, led the recruitment and training of our college volunteers.

What is the need you’re responding to?

In Los Angeles young people navigate difficult decisions around their mental health, sexual health, and substance use. Many young people first begin to use substances to deal with depression or anxiety. Young people in high poverty communities are even more likely to become pregnant unintentionally, are less likely to seek help when feeling sad or depressed, and are more likely to use substances as a coping mechanism for stress and other mental health challenges. Despite the need for high-quality health education and coordinated services with health systems, schools often do not commit adequate resources to deliver effective health education and connect students to health resources in their communities. PHE helps fill this critical gap in the provision of effective heath education and connects students to the preventative care they need across Los Angeles.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?​

There are a handful of organizations in LA that serve to educate young people with health education. However, what makes our program unique is our use of neer-peer health educators, our focus on mental health, and overall our evidence-informed health education curriculum that incorporates pedagogical best practices and focuses on skill-building in support of health. This not only distinguishes our model from other health education programs but also improves our impact on youth. As slightly older peers, PHE's college-aged health educators are well positioned to lead honest conversations about high school students’ choices and health. We have found through evaluation of our program that the high school students are often more comfortable asking sensitive and challenging health questions of college volunteers than a traditional teacher.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?​

Direct Impact: 3,350

Indirect Impact: 315

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

At the end of the program, we hope to have much impact in the community including:

- increasing students’ health knowledge, skills, and intentions

- educating more students on knowing how to access mental health resources.

- becoming the missing link between the classroom and the health center and helping young people access more individualized resources

- building college volunteers’ leadership and teaching skills and developing their awareness of health equity issues

- fostering a strong sense of community on college campuses, and building volunteerism in their community

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

Student reach results are an important measure of success for us, but most important is the quality of our program, as measured through student impact tools. Peer Health Exchange regularly measures our impact on students’ abilities to make healthy decisions through formative and outcomes evaluation. Outcomes evaluation methods include pre- and post-tests and exit slips. We benchmark our annual results against our external evaluation post-test data and relevant national data in order to understand our ability to sustain and grow our impact.

In 2014, PHE invested in an external evaluation conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to learn what works and doesn’t work in our model. The study included 4,000 students, comparing those who received PHE to those who did not. We found that our program has a statistically-significant positive effect on mental health knowledge, skills, and help-seeking behavior. The majority of these outcomes persisted after a following year without PHE.

By the end of the 2018-2019 program year, students in LA reported that PHE was helping to inform their decision-making around health.

- 86% of students indicated “PHE influenced my decision to advocate for my own health.”

- 83% of students indicated “PHE influenced my decision to seek help if I am experiencing poor mental health.”

We expect to see similar results at the end of the school year.

Which of the LIVE metrics will your submission impact?​

Resilient communities

Mental illness

Access to mental health services

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?​

LA is the healthiest place to CONNECT

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?​

Access to the LA2050 community

Host public events or gatherings

Office space for meetings, events, or for staff