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Health equity through sport

Copyrights: The Grassroots Project

Health equity through sport

The Grassroot Project is a community-based organization working with urban youth and college athletes to reimagine the impact that sports can have on youth and health education.

As The Grassroot Project’s (TGP) newest Program Coordinators, we are thrilled to co-write this paper to highlight the work we have been doing at a nonprofit organization reimagining the impact sports can have on youth and health education.

As young professionals and athletes, we recognize our strengths in uniting college athletes, partnering with local educators, and empowering middle school students to promote health and wellness through the transformative power of sports. We believe that schools and community-wide partnerships can empower youth in DC to make conscious health choices that minimize the incidence of chronic and infectious disease.

Who is TGP 

TGP is a community-based health education and promotion organization that uses sports-based curricula to reimagine health and advance health equity in the U.S. Starting in the 6th grade, middle school youth participate in a comprehensive three-year pipeline, detailing key aspects and components of physical and nutritional health (Grade 6), sexual health (Grade 7), and mental health (Grade 8).

TGP recruits and trains NCAA D1 athletes from partnering universities such as George Washington, Georgetown, American and Howard to help deliver its programs and serve as near-peer role models to youth. In a city that faces a number of public health crises, we are using sports and athletes as a platform to educate youth, break the silence around taboo topics, and connect youth and their families to critical health services. 

Contextualizing DC

At least 95% of U.S. youth are enrolled in schools. On average, DC students spend at least 7 hours in school for approximately 180 days out of the year. These statistics underscore the role schools and educators can play in personal growth, having a key opportunity to promote students’ social, emotional, and behavioral development. Public health officials and educators recognize the importance of this responsibility for student development and are actively pushing for schools to promote physical activity and health education standards that prioritize students’ well-being. 

A 2017 national CDC assessment found that only half of school districts at the middle and high school levels, and just over a third at the elementary level, meet their health education standards. Acknowledging this low statistic and the non-standardized nature of PE and health education, schools can benefit from community-based health organizations to develop an engaging curriculum.

Through partnerships, TGP is helping schools reach their health standards, introduce existing local health services, and normalize conversations around health. Through this essay, readers will understand how TGP’s sports-based health curriculum coupled with near peer role-models is beneficial for skill development and positive health behaviors for youth.

Near-peer model and skill development

Research suggests that the positive effect of physical activity is correlated to physical outcomes and associated with enhanced mental, psychosocial, behavioral, and academic-related outcomes. Utilizing this construct, TGP prioritizes learning through team-based sports using various physical games as metaphors for various health topics.

The curriculum is engaging, interactive and sensitive so that students can have a safe space to reflect using real-life scenarios. As students draw those connections, NCAA athletes are actively practicing their facilitation skills and mentorship capabilities to ensure lessons are comprehensible and engaging.

Student-athletes have the opportunity to engage in curriculum development, facilitate the recruitment and training of other athletes, and help shape TGP’s communications. Students that are trained in our core curricula have the opportunity to participate as a program facilitator, serve as the lead liaison between TGP and their respective school, or as a Master Trainer where their primary responsibility is to train other athletes. All positions grant student-athletes greater leadership skills and contribution within the organization.

TGP offers a four-day training that encompasses curriculum delivery, health literacy, cultural competency, and classroom facilitation skills. The different roles offer student-athletes the opportunity to gain necessary skills, not only for the delivery of our program, but their continued civic engagement and career development. 

Looking ahead

Founded out of the need for HIV education in DC, TGP has long been inspired by conversations with DC educators, students, and athletes regarding health topics they feel are critical for youth, given that racial and cultural backgrounds can impact health. After a decade of programming, TGP has revised our curriculum to include both nutritional and mental health to address growing concerns in these areas.

Understanding the need for comprehensive health education for all youth, TGP models its curricula to be replicated across the U.S. As TGP expands to Philadelphia in the near term and currently works in conjunction with the Healthy Schools Act in DC, we look forward to seeing the transformative power sports will have in the next decade, through and beyond the pandemic. 


Treniyyah Anderson is a native of Philadelphia and Duke University graduate, passionate about learning different cultures, diversifying her food palate, and youth mentorship and sports with students.

Lara Negron Ocasio is a George Washington University women’s rowing team alumna, passionate about social justice and staying active in the DC metro area.

Tyler Spencer is the founder and CEO of TGP, with a PhD in Public Health from Oxford University.


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Treniyyah Anderson; Lara Negron Ocasio


Wednesday, August 11, 2021 - 08:49

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