Tobacco-Free East Hawaiʻi (TFHI) has a long history of mentoring seniors at Waiakea High, primarily from the Business, Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Academy. These seniors are those conducting their “Senior Projects” and require a site or business where they can apply their business/marketing skills. Over the past 10 years, seniors have successfully produced marketing materials to promote tobacco/vape-free laws, radio ads, and raise support for local and statewide tobacco control policy campaigns. Students have had tremendous successes through policy efforts such as the Raise the Age to 21 campaign (Hawai’i County/statewide), Smoke-Free Cars youth-led campaign, and the Flavors Hooks Kids campaign, just to name a few.
In the fall of 2020, for the first time, a senior from the health academy at Waiakea High, Aaryanna Wong-Yuen, reached out to ask if she and her classmate could be mentored for their senior project. They wanted to raise awareness of the youth e-cigarette epidemic on their campus. Their primary goal was to educate administration, educators and staff about how the vaping epidemic was taking over their school. Students were highly motivated to be agents of change.
Over the course of several months, numerous meetings and preparation of materials, Aaryanna and classmate Jaysha Sadornas created a Vaping Prevention Education presentation, for Waiakea Intermediate School (WIS) students, rather than an education campaign for WHS administrators and staff. According to Aaryanna, “The idea of my Senior Project shifted due to the lack of education being shared in public schools about the dangers of vaping. I wanted to expose students to the dangers, the long-term effects and help them understand why they should stay away from vaping.”
When asked if TFHI assisted in helping her gain knowledge and an understanding of the youth vaping epidemic in Hawaiʻi, Aaryanna shared, “Having my mentor, Sally Ancheta from the Coalition was really helpful, encouraging and inspiring. She helped me find resources and understand the issue. She also helped me connect with students at a deeper level so they could see eye to eye with me. She also taught me to break out of my shell and have fun with the students and gave me a solid foundation of information so I could answer questions when we presented.”
Between December 2019 and February 2020, Aaryanna and Jaysha presented their Youth Vaping Prevention presentation to 12 classes at Waiakea Intermediate School and collected over 300 written testimonies, from students in grades six through eight, supporting a statewide flavor ban. When asked how this project ended, with public and private schools transitioning to the virtual options due to COVID-19 pandemic, Aaryanna stated, “The benefit of this project was getting the students educated on vaping and being able to use their feedback to write our own testimony (for HB2457). My greatest success with this project was to encourage the students to stop vaping or better yet, not even start.”
Aaryanna wants to continue to be an agent of change by educating the next generation in East Hawaiʻi, “My future plan is to stay home and attend the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo to become a registered nurse. I hope to be able to present to students, at least one more time. I miss them and loved talking to them.” TFHI is proud to spotlight our shining senior, Aaryanna, who helped navigate the road of living vape-free for the next generation of Waiakea Warriors through education and advocacy.