Youth Involvement in AMCHP’s Preconception Health and Adolescents Action Learning Collaborative:
An Interview with Hillary Merick
Missouri was selected as one of six state teams to participate in AMCHP’s Preconception Health and Adolescents Action Learning Collaborative. While the team is in the early planning stages, they have proposed to work with schools to incorporate preconception health strategies and messages into educational materials. Their target audience is youth ages 14 to 19. The team — comprised of state health and education agency staff and community stakeholders — invited Hillary Merick, a high school student from Zalma, Missouri, to participate on the team as a key stakeholder. Below is a brief interview with Ms. Merick.
Hillary, could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I am a senior at Zalma High School in Zalma, Missouri and am currently the class Valedictorian. During the week I focus on school work and all of the extra-curricular activities I am involved in. I am currently taking dual-credit classes so that when I graduate high school I will already have most of my core classes finished. For my extra curricular activities, I am the FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) State 1st Vice President, and I am in Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Student Council, Senior Beta, and Choir, for all of which I am the President. I am also my Senior Class President and participate in Smokebusters and First Priority. On weekends I like to just do the normal teenager stuff. I like to hang out with my friends and boyfriend and just kind of calm down from all the rush of the week. I'm very excited to graduate even though I haven't made up my mind completely on what I would like to do afterwards. The first idea is to attend St. Louis College of Pharmacy (if accepted) and go into Pharmacy. The second option is to major in Political Science and then go on to Law School. I would like to work as a lawyer for a few years and then possibly run for a public office sometime in the future since I love government. My two paths are so completely different which is what makes it so difficult but hopefully I can figure out something soon.
How did you become part of the Missouri Preconception Health and Adolescents Action Learning Collaborative Team?
I was appointed to the Missouri Preconception Health and Adolescents Action Learning Collaborative Team by Christine Hollingsworth and Cynthia Arendt. They are both part of the Family and Consumer Sciences and Human Services Section (FACS) at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
What is most exciting for you about the project?
The most exciting part for me about the project is getting to come up with a way to help teenagers. I believe a lot of the problem with the issue of sex is peer pressure and there really is no way to stop that completely but hopefully with this program we can find a way to show young people some consequences of their actions and help them to realize that you don't have to go with the crowd to be “cool.” People will respect you more for doing your own thing than following others.
What is most exciting for you about participating on the team?
I think the most exciting thing about getting to participate on this team is getting to meet the rest of the members on the team and learning from them and their life experiences. They have already made a name for themselves, so to speak, and by working with them directly I feel that I can gain knowledge about not only this team, but the other organizations they are a part of as well.
What do you think could be the benefits of applying the idea of preconception health to education and health programs for young people?
I believe that by strengthening the curriculum in health classes in schools, especially child development classes, etc., we will be able to make sure that teenagers are actually being educated on the topic. However, this is where the controversy arises. Some parents may not agree that a teacher should be teaching sex education to their children so we aren't sure how we are going to do this quite yet. We do want to make sure that the teachers are comfortable with the information themselves so they aren't embarrassed to teach it. The main concern though is the consent of the parents. We are also hoping to bring organizations into this. I am the FCCLA State 1st Vice President, and at our State Leadership Conference we always have many workshops for members to go to throughout the three days and we are hoping to focus a workshop around this. Right now we are working on a way to reword "Preconception Health" so that it sounds appealing to teenagers and to people in general.
Why do you think preconception health and sex education are important topics?
I have realized that most people my age don't think about the consequences before they act. I hear stories everyday about freshmen and sophomore girls having one night stands, with or without protection, with guys they don't really even know. All they can think about is how to become more popular or make guys notice them but what they are forgetting to think about are the life long consequences they could have to deal with because of these actions. I'm hoping that as a team we can develop a way to raise awareness of all these consequences to all teenagers--girls and boys--across the state.