Research In Action

Research In Action

Empowering Teens To Be Healthy Relationship Leaders
February 28, 2023

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, serving as a time to raise awareness about the serious reach and impact of teen dating violence; approximately 1 in 3 teens in the U.S. have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from a dating partner. It’s also a time to highlight community-based programs helping teens to build healthy relationship skills. For 10 years, Students Talking About Relationships (STAR) has empowered students in Philadelphia schools to build healthy relationships. Thanks to a recent grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, STAR is set to expand services even further.



STAR began over a decade ago when domestic violence advocates at Lutheran Settlement House (LSH) adapted an evidence-based curriculum on healthy relationships within the cultural context of students in Philadelphia. Over the course of a 10-week training program, students learn about the common dynamics of and warning signs for dating abuse – not only to protect themselves, but also to act as first responders when their friends experience an abusive relationship

Two years ago, STAR joined forces with CHOP to launch its Teen Ambassador Program. Students who completed the STAR curriculum are eligible to be trained as co-facilitators, helping to share healthy relationship skills with their peers. “Teens get talked at all the time by adults,” says Marcella Nyachogo, program director of LSH’s Bilingual Domestic Violence Program. “When teens talk to each other about relationships, they are more likely to internalize the message.”

When teens talk to each other about relationships, they are more likely to internalize the message.

Now, the Teen Ambassador Program is set to expand further. LSH, in partnership with CHOP, was awarded a grant for $725,000 from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to expand teen dating violence resources in Philadelphia. In addition to hiring two full-time staff members, this grant will enable LSH and CHOP to further study the impact of STAR’s interventions. CHOP’s Dr. Ashlee Murray, emergency medicine physician and director of CHOP’s IPV Task Force, will be supporting those efforts. According to Nyachogo, “having CHOP on board to do a more robust evaluation than we could do on our own puts us in a position to evaluate our work and make sure it’s doing what we think it’s doing.”

The learning that takes place through STAR is a two-way street. Teen ambassadors don’t simply leave the STAR program with a new set of relational skills. In fact, they help to improve the program itself. “Having teens take on a leadership role in the program helps us to inform and tweak the curriculum,” says Nyachogo. Thanks to STAR, teens are stepping up as healthy relationship leaders in their own communities.