We’re a Part of the Village
May 22, 2020 / by Tyra Pendergrass, Associate Director for the play2PREVENT Lab
“Everyone come in, grab your assigned iPads, a snack, and a drink.” “Did everyone have a good day at school today?”
That was my traditional, daily greeting to students who signed up to participate in our Randomized Controlled Trial to help our lab (the play2PREVENT Lab) test out our newest game.
At the play2 PREVENT Lab at Yale University, we build and evaluate videogames to promote healthy behaviors in youth and young adults. Our games focus on critical public health and social issues, including prevention in: STIs, HIV, drug and alcohol use, youth violence, bullying, unsafe driving, and obesity. Our objective is to serve as a resource for teens, parents, schools, communities, and other stakeholders with the common goal of improving and sustaining the health and well-being of young people.
The play2PREVENT Lab is comprised of a multidisciplinary team of researchers, game developers, and community partners.
On the surface as researchers, that is what we do… research. A clear cut goal with a set of protocols and procedures to get us to the end product. Objective, meticulous, repetitive. Oh, but the play2PREVENT Lab is so much more.
To test the efficacy of our games in changing behavior, knowledge, attitudes, intentions we conduct Randomized Controlled Trials. In our Randomized Controlled Trials, we enroll between 300-600 students-across our many partner school sites, after-school programs, and summer programs-to help us rigorously and scientifically test our games. On average we see the students once or twice a week over the course of six weeks. And on some projects, the students complete follow-up assessments at multiple timepoints up to two years after they’ve played our game. This gives our team a lot of opportunity to get to know the students that are participating in our projects. Outside of the research, students often let you know what is going on in their world; like extracurricular activities that they’re involved in and super proud of, or the celebration of grade achievements or birthdays. Or even the not so good stuff, like life stressors, relationship things, and the fact that the school dance was cancelled due to COVID. You hear their voices; which is an integral part of the work that the play2PREVENT Lab does, “games made for teens, by teens.”
In the wake of COVID-19 my days look drastically different. Instead of using my mornings to catch up on administrative, logistical and data and then going to one of our partner school or after-school sites, the schedule has shifted to being behind a computer for 8 hours with Zoom meetings galore. Our team has adjusted well, with still being able to have the students complete their assessment questions via links we send to their phones or via email.
However, one of the greatest aspects about my job is the opportunity to interact with students, teachers, staff. We all work together with the common goal of creating engaging and impactful resources for students that can ultimately impact their health and help them grow as adolescents. Those interactions are the most fulfilling part.
Without those daily interactions, you truly don’t realize how much a part of your day to day and your world those students, teachers, and staff are. We were only a small part of the day for students, but in a lot of ways we are part of the village that will help guide and raise these students.
I recently checked in with some of our school partners to see how the transition to online learning was going. Each school site varied with the challenges that they were experiencing adapting to the new normal. But the common thread was that the absence of that in person interaction was something that was valued and deeply missed.
Our society has found innovative ways to keep in touch and pivot during these unique times, but this time has allowed me to slow down and truly treasure the physical interactions. Even though I’m an introvert by nature and often need to recharge and find solace in my own space, I do value the in person interactions.
Seeing as June is around the corner, I’m looking forward to warmer weather and the ability to just “be” along-side others and enjoy them just being there. And of course looking forward to just being with our students again.