By Kristian Jaime
In an auditorium packed with teens, health professionals and community activists, the crescendo of “Believe it, achieve it!” underscored the importance of DreamSA.
The initiative started by Metro Health’s Project Worth was a comprehensive approach to deal with community maladies such as teen pregnancy, lagging graduation rates and career development. The app that accompanies DreamSA also engages teens with opportunities to share their goals with their peers.
“[City] growth is going to happen with or without a plan. The kind of city we want to be, whether it is one with [opportunities], will be determined by the decisions we make in public policy over the next five to ten years,” said District 8 City Councilman and Mayoral candidate Ron Nirenberg.
As San Antonio braces for a population influx of an estimated 1 million people within the next 35 years, programs are already underway to ensure the creation of economic and health related goals to be met. Among them is addressing teen pregnancy rates that have actually been decreasing according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
The teen birth rate in Texas declined 56 percent between 1991 and 2015. In 2014 there were 35,063 births to teens. Most teen births in Texas are to older teens between the ages of 18-19 years-old. It is also the case that 21 percent of all teen births were to teens who already had a child. Yet San Antonio still has a teen birth rate considerably higher than the national average according to 2014 data collected by Project Worth.
“We need to make sure that we are driven by evidence and data by our healthcare professionals,” continued Councilman Nirenberg (D8). “Project Worth is a great example of how they can help create programs with real impact. Teen pregnancy has been a prison for many families in which young people drop out to take care of their children.”
According to Metro Health, the key is engagement.
With the launch of the app comes a way for peers to publicly state their career and educational goals in a social media setting. Furthermore, links to community resources for higher education makes funding the dream that much easier. It is an initiative utilizing what teens seemingly value most–their peers.
According to a 2016 Texas Education Agency (TEA) report on “Secondary School Completion and Dropouts,” African American students had the highest four-year dropout rate across the five largest racial/ethnic groups at 9.5 percent, followed by Hispanics at 7.7 percent with multiracial, White and Asian students totaling 9.9 percent.
“One of the most important things we can do is keep youth engaged and that’s what DreamSA is all about,” said Metro Health District Assistant Director Jennifer Herriott, MPH. “Anytime a youth is involved in any type of initiatives, they tend to do better. We really want to get them involved in exciting things and hopefully that will lead to aspirations in their future.”
As the seventh largest city in the United States, San Antonio has become a focal point for many community-led programs aimed at tackling long-term issues like health and education.
As part of Project Worth, DreamSA will also include face-to-face sessions and use the 40 Developmental Asset framework to spark teens’ individual interests. Actively reaching out to the emerging generation is vital given the average age of the city is a mere 32 years-old. With many finding the Alamo City a suitable place raise a family, that population growth is on a horizon not too far away.
“Peers are huge influencers of their peers. It’s important to identify young people who are bright and doing well and have them get other people involved,” continued Herriott. “DreamSA engaged youth every step of the way so we also need to make sure we’re providing that education at the school level and to parents.”
As one of the people vying for the city’s top job, Councilman Nirenberg (D8) was quick to note that as Mayor, policies like these are vital to a viable city.
“We need to have a mayor that speaks up for the future of San Antonio and who puts the needs of our children and grandchildren [up front] so they have the space to become contributing citizens of this city. We only do that championing their issues,” concluded Councilman Nirenberg (D8).
More information on DreamSA and latest free app is available at www.idreamsa.com.