Students using cell phones.

YPAR Starts Conversations: Student Phone Use and How it Affects Well-Being

During the 2017-18 school year, a group of eight GDS high schoolers worked together as a Youth-led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) cohort to research topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion within the High School community. The group researched how socioeconomic status affects sports participation and, as a result, we successfully proposed an equity fund—making a tangible difference within our community.

For the current school year, the YPAR cohort of nine students, with support from the High School administration, is focusing on the mental health and well-being of students by researching the impact of cell phones in our lives. We believe that by examining the connection between phones and our lives as GDS students, we’ll be able to conduct research that will influence changes within the community to improve mental health and student well-being. By raising awareness, the GDS community can begin to take steps to talk about the importance of mental health and self care.

To develop our research question for the year, we began by reading pieces of literature that presented a wide array of views on the topics of phone usage and mental health. We also interviewed a few peers, as well as members of the administration, to hear their opinions and thoughts about our topics. After our preliminary research, we reflected on how our own identities and experiences impacted our research process; we then organized and prioritized our goals using a technique called “concept mapping.”

The YPAR cohort decided that our research question would be: How do phones impact the GDS community? We are now beginning to form questions for a school-wide survey that will be sent to students. From our survey, we hope to gather preliminary data about students’ perspectives on the role of phone usage in their lives. Once we attain this data, we hope to use it to form the foundation of the questions for our focus group (small groups of people with a moderator). From our focus groups, the YPAR cohort seeks to attain qualitative data and hear individual voices in our community, including those of students, teachers, and administrative faculty.

We hope to collect data during this year’s project that will help our community take tangible steps toward better addressing mental health and self care. YPAR allows us as students to actively research important issues within our community and from that research, take steps to create solutions. The last few years we have been able to see the change that students can make, not only through our actions, but also through the conversations we have started. YPAR presents a unique opportunity that allows students to engage with GDS’s mission in the present in order to have an impact on the future.

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