The Tell Me What You See (TMWYS) program is a supplemental resource developed in Connecticut that health educators can use to enhance existing curricula for high school-aged youth. The initiative addresses STDs, hepatitis and HIV prevention and integrates essential knowledge and skill development through an art-based approach to prevention education. The artwork and poetry was created by incarcerated youth and focuses on a multidisciplinary approach. The TMWYS program promotes dialogue among youth and adults through interactive classroom activities and enhances health educators' efforts to convey actionable prevention programs in their communities. TMWYS is designed to be in alignment with the Connecticut State Department of Education's Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework and National Health Education Standards.
TMWYS is unique in its ability to promote classroom interaction. By using art to inspire students to explore and share their own thoughts and feelings TMWYS helps health educators strengthen students' decision making and negotiation skills so that they take responsibility for their health and develop the tools to avoid risky behaviors. The art-based component encourages students to visualize and to practice prevention skills that reduce their risk of contracting STDs, hepatitis and HIV.
Origin of the Tell Me What You See program
The idea for the TMWYS program originated in '2003' during a working visit to Malawi, Africa by Concerned Citizens for Humanity (CCfH), Executive Director, Darrell Decker (now retired), while serving as a creative consultant to Population Services International (PSI).
During a month long HIV health education and prevention initiative the underlying creative framework for TMWYS took shape. Under a pilot intervention program designed by CCfH and PSI health educators, local educators, parents, young people and care providers participated in numerous focus groups to help design and implement a HIV awareness program. The innovative, low cost health education program involved people from urban and rural communities in the concept and design of an art-based HIV awareness program. local creativity and personal involvement was stressed in the search to find the most powerful and culturally sensitive visuals for use in this model HIV/AIDS prevention campaign. The resounding success of the 'Malawi' inspired art-based health education effort was the creative starting point for the Tell Me What You See program.
Upon returning home, Darrell Decker shared a preliminary outline for the TMWYS program with fellow health educators from the Connecticut State Department of Public Health (DPH), Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), Community Partners in Action (CPA) and the new idea took root. The highly successful TMWYS program shared several key elements with the original Malawi project - it was art-based, teacher friendly, and designed to create interactive discussion in the classroom. Starting in 2006, TMWYS was introduced to Connecticut health educators through several pilot training sessions. and found to be well-liked and effective with their students. Today, the TMWYS program is available to high school health educators through its online program format.
Fusing art and health education into one cohesive program
The artwork was the first part of the TMWYS program to be developed. Concerned Citizens for Humanity (CCfH), as part of its overall creative mission often included incarcerated populations in the design of its community based creative projects. Early on, it was determined that youthful offenders be given a crucial role in the development of the artwork for TMWYS. This novel idea allowed youthful offenders who wanted to give something positive back to their peers in high schools and communities across Connecticut, to actively participate in the creative development of the TMWYS program. To achieve this ambitious goal, CCfH collaborated with it's longstanding community partner, CPA's - Beyond Fear Program. During the following year several prison arts workshops were taught by CCfH consultant Jeffrey Greene, program manager of the CPA's Prison Art Program, in collaboration with health educators from the Department of Public Health (DPH).
To prepare for the project, classes were held that included group presentations on HIV review of age appropriate health education materials, and a sharing of personal experiences. The creative challenge was to use the youthful offenders' artistic talent and problem solving skills to communicate their personal experiences, choices and consequences that they had faced. Inmates brought in rough sketches every week for an in-depth discussion and critique of their artwork. It was determined that STDs, hepatitis and HIV were highly complex social health issues that require ongoing decision making skills based on essential knowledge of the facts and retention of concrete avoidance behaviors. As a result of these intensive group review sessions, depiction of people in real life settings where behavioral challenges occur was selected as the best possible theme for communicating the various prevention messages.
Mural theme: People in real life settings where behavioral challenges occur
With this underlying theme in mind, the final artwork strove to be emotionally evocative in ways that would encourage wide-ranging debate about personal responsibility and the serious consequences of risky behavior. In creating the artwork featured in TMWYS, the young incarcerated artists discussed how other youth might interpret their art and poetry and whether their work would help other youth avoid the problems that they had experienced. The intent was to open a dialogue between health educators and students as well as between students and their peers.
The artwork development team worked on the project for sixteen weeks with twelve incarcerated male and female youthful offenders, ages 16-21, from the York and Corrigan Correctional Institutions in Connecticut, During this time meetings made up of creative and health professionals from CCfH, DPH, and CSDE were held to review and comment on the proposed ideas. Approved art concepts were then sketched out, painted and completed over the next few months.
All twelve mural panels produced by youthful offenders participating in the workshops were initially printed in a full color calendar that was disseminated to high schools and community based programs. Following the release of the calendar, a group of health educators from the community, DPH and CSDE selected eight of the twelve calendar paintings for use in the TMWYS program.