Celebrating HEARTS-M: Helping Middle Schoolers Thrive

From July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023, the Life-skills, Empowerment, and Development Services (LEADS) ran the HEARTS-M program, helping middle schoolers learn about healthy relationships and smart life choices. HEARTS-M stands for Health Education and Relationship Training Services for Middle School. LEADS used the Love Notes program to teach middle schoolers (ages 11-14) about building healthy relationships and making good decisions. The program aimed to help teens reach their goals in education, work, relationships, and family life.

The program was free and took place over two Saturdays in schools, churches, and community centers across six Florida counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Duval, and Orange. Young people got breakfast, lunch, snacks, a T-shirt, and a journal for activities. Those who finished the program also received an Amazon gift card. The HEARTS-M program was well-loved by the community. It met the needs of the young people, their families, and community members. Almost all the young people who joined—98.79%—completed the program! In total, 3,094 youth and 3,150 caregivers and professionals participated. The program stayed true to the Love Notes curriculum, which is designed to be relevant and appropriate for teens. Facilitators were well-trained, and the program consistently received high marks for

HEARTS-M constantly sought feedback to improve the program. This helped make the program even better and more effective over time. LEADS made sure to share the program’s successes, challenges, and resources with community partners. This helped build trust and ensured the program could continue and be replicated elsewhere. HEARTS-M was run in six Florida counties with high rates of issues like teen births, sexually transmitted infections, and substance use. The program worked closely with these communities to address these concerns, focusing especially on Black American youth aged 11-14.

The program demographics showed that 89% of participants were Black American, 77% were non-Hispanic, and 48% were boys. Most participants (98%) were in 5th to 9th grade. HEARTS-M made a big impact with 177 camps and 88 community partners. It also reached out through social media, including one blog post and 55 social media updates.

The program was highlighted at many events, including national and state conferences, such as the 2023 Title X Grantee Conference, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Grantee Conference, and the HEARTS-M Youth and Parent Statewide Summit. LEADS learned the importance of having a strong referral system to help youth and families. The program also saw the need for better ways to track observations.

The HEARTS-M program has helped many middle schoolers learn about healthy relationships and make better life choices. By listening to the community and always aiming to improve, HEARTS-M has made a real difference. LEADS is excited to keep supporting young people and their communities. For more information, you can contact Marlaina Satcher, CEO of LEADS, at marlaina@leadsflorida.org. Stay tuned to our blog and social media for more updates on our programs and activities!