The Youth Advocates Club at Mission Bay High didn’t slow down during the pandemic. Not only did they keep up with their studies in the new learn-from-home environment, but they also continued their club meetings. Club members entered – and won – the App Challenge, a contest to design a phone app to help young people make healthy decisions about alcohol.
“Our app is called ‘Wellness Check’ and it can be used by teenagers and by young adults,” said Hadeed Habib, vice president of Youth Advocates. “It promotes a sober lifestyle for people who haven’t started drinking. It helps teenagers understand how alcohol impacts their minds and bodies. And for people over 21, it’s a resource to track how much and how often they drink.”
The app is based on a reward system, according to Karrin Evans, a senior at Mission Bay High. “You choose a landscape such as city, garden, or farm, and you continue to develop it.”
“Wellness Check is an ‘idle game’ style app,” Evans said. “That means it doesn’t require constant attention, but it encourages users to check in daily.”
“The more you interact with Wellness Check, the more you build upon your design,” she said. “You can set your own goals and be accountable to them through the reward system.”
“Our hope is that we can change the drinking behaviors of people, starting when they’re young,” Habib added. “Heavy drinking and underage drinking are risky, unhealthy, and needlessly damage a lot of lives.”
The App Challenge contest was organized by the San Diego County Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative. Craig Reed, director of the initiative, said the goal is to help people make healthy decisions.
“We wanted students to come up with apps that weren’t just about not drinking or limiting your alcohol consumption,” Reed said. “We want to promote a holistic approach to better health. The reward system embedded in the Wellness Check app lets users see the benefits of taking care of their own health.”
“Research tells us the transition from middle school to high school is associated with increased risk of substance use,” said Mission Bay High Head Counselor Caroline Karoczkai. She works with the Youth Advocates Club.
“Developmentally, it’s very important to teens to fit in and identify with those around them,” Karoczkai said. “They crave independence. It can be tricky to navigate all of this and make healthy decisions.”
“When it comes to using alcohol and other drugs, most students are making good choices,” said Lizzy Hynd. She is the community organizer with North City Prevention Coalition and advisor to the Youth Advocates.
“Only about one-third of high school juniors use alcohol or other drugs according to the California Healthy Kids Survey,” Hynd said. “Alcohol use is trending downward.”
“This app would help users understand how alcohol affects their health,” Hynd explained. “Young people are very health conscious, but they don’t see much information about alcohol and health on social media, or in movies and TV shows. When a high school student gets that information through an app, they are less likely to drink. Apps like Wellness Check can help move the needle, and keep underage drinking trending downward.”
“Students know more about their classmates’ drinking habits than anyone else,” Hynd added. “Our club members are tech-savvy, and they understand what engages people, what makes one app more popular than another.”
Hynd said she is proud of the Youth Advocates members who stayed involved in the club through the turmoil of the pandemic. She was also impressed by the school’s commitment to keeping different clubs running when students could not be on campus.
“Before the pandemic, Ms. Karoczkai was always at our meetings on campus,” Hynd said. “When students made the switch to working from home, she was in our Zoom meetings as well. Her continued support shows the students that their school is a real community, not just a place of learning.”
“Psychologists tell us when teenagers feel like they are part of a community, it builds a good sense of personal identity,” Hynd said. “And having a strong sense of who you are is a key to making healthy choices for the rest of your life.”
Karoczkai believes clubs like Youth Advocates give students a positive outlet for their creativity.
“They want to make the world a better place, create inclusive spaces, and have fun,” she said. “I love the idea of students uplifting one another to achieve those goals.”