Editor’s Note: This piece is the third student essay about Human Health students’ experiences participating in Health 1, 2, 3’s classroom to community 4th level component. See here to learn more about this new program.
By: Shaylan Hill
Our educational system places a strong emphasis on academic skills like math, reading, and writing, while health education often takes a backseat. The current system makes it easy to underestimate the importance of health education, since having good health won’t necessarily get you into college.
Health is engrained in every part of our lives: the food we eat, the people we surround ourselves with, how we cope with stress, and how we spend our time.
Health education is an integral component of a holistic educational experience and is crucial to implement at a young age and throughout the course of adolescent development. It is important for young students to develop healthy habits early in life. Implementing a health curriculum for each grade level is crucial because health strategies look different for different age groups. Health and wellbeing look much different for a high school student than for an elementary school student. Teaching students about the multifaceted and individualized nature of health will allow them to adapt to difficult changes in life.
Students should be taught life skills, not just academic skills. In many cases, the only form of health education received by elementary, middle, and high school students is in the form of physical education. While physical education is an important component to our health, it alone is not sufficient to promote overall health and flourishing. It was not until my freshman year at Emory that I learned health does not come from simply eating healthy and exercising a few times per week. Health is engrained in every part of our lives: the food we eat, the people we surround ourselves with, how we cope with stress, and how we spend our time.
Providing students with the tools to live a healthy lifestyle and build a sense of wellbeing is the best way get involved in the Atlanta community. Though the King Middle students and I come from different backgrounds, health is something we all share. Through collaborative efforts between the 4th level of the Health 1, 2, 3 program, Graduation Generation, and King Middle School, Emory students like myself were able to establish an active dialogue with students about healthy behaviors and ways to practice them.
For our second nutrition lesson, we spent the class cooking some easy healthy meals with the students while emphasizing the importance of its nutritional profile. Initially, the students did not think they would like the foods we were making—black bean and veggie quesadillas, fruit smoothies, mini griddle pizzas, and stuffed strawberries. However, every student was excited about the meals they made and about trying the other foods their classmates made. Each student claimed that their creation was “the best” and was shocked at how easy it really is to eat whole, nutritious foods.
Seeing the students get so excited about health really reaffirmed my confidence in student health education. Students are eager to learn about health and want to better themselves in their daily lives. We made sure to emphasize that health is not only physical, but also mental, emotional, social, and spiritual as well.
Teaching students about positive mental health is crucial, especially at the middle school age as they start to mature. I was surprised at the level of maturity and comfort with which the 8th grade boys addressed positive mental health strategies. We organized our last class into 3 stations in which each station performed a different mental health building task, one of which was writing letters of gratitude. One student addressed his gratitude letter to the Emory volunteers, thanking us for teaching them about more health.
Though teaching middle school definitely pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone, I was disappointed that our time had to come to an end. The need for a comprehensive health education is critical but is often overshadowed by the desire to hit academic metrics. However, academic success is much more difficult without healthy relationships, bodies, and minds. My hope is that the 4th level of the Health 1, 2, 3 program maintains a long-term relationship with both Graduation Generation as well as King Middle School to continue building a healthy Atlanta community.