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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of blog posts written by Human Health students in the Health 1,2,3,4 program’s Health 497 course – Community Health Education Strategies. To see an overview of the program and this series, please read this post.

Well, despite reading about health and learning about the benefits of physical activity, stress management, etc., I have learned that it is quite impossible to constrict health to just one definition. King Middle School students have taught me that health is a uniquely personal and everyday experience and that there are a variety of ways to express it. During our engaging health discussions, King Middle School students have shared with me and my Health 497 co-instructor what health meant to them. We spoke about creating goals, protecting our social and mental health, as well as improving our sleep quality. We also addressed potential barriers to improving our sleep, as well as potential obstacles we may encounter when we are pursuing Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time Based (SMART) goals, in order to emphasize that even though we may be aware of strategies that benefit our health, it can be difficult to implement them.

My Health 497 partner and I strived to emphasize that by becoming aware of potential obstacles in improving our health, we may feel better equipped to handle these obstacles (e.g., by asking for help or adjusting our SMART goals). It is a relief to know that we do not have to have all the answers when it comes to health. During my King Middle School experience and interaction with the students and staff, it became crystal clear why health education is such an invaluable component to a public school education. In my opinion, the reason why health education is so crucial to public schools is because health is an experience we all share.

A health education enables students to cultivate strategies that strengthen their physical, mental, and social health. After each lesson, students can take the concepts they learned with them to apply to their lives long term. They can share the strategies they learned in class with their family members and their friends, thus empowering a community. In addition, even the people that facilitate the lessons can takeaway something new. After every lesson facilitation, I learned a new strategy to protect my health because the students shared the strategies that worked for them. One student shared that the way she copes with stress is that she searches the fridge for an apple because she loves apples. Another student shared the way she protects her social and mental health is by playing basketball because it is a sport that she truly enjoys. That is what is so wonderful about health education: the learning never stops and during every lesson, I get to hear students share their interests and their hobbies. Health education enables us to form meaningful, collaborative partnerships with the community.

It is true that life can be overwhelming. It may be impossible to avoid stress (although now I fear stress a little bit less as I have learned that motivational stress does exist—I just realized that rhymes). Students may encounter a stressor, such as facing new responsibilities like studying for an exam or balancing school with family time. A health education can provide middle school students an outlet for sharing those stressors and can teach them invaluable skills like collaborating with peers to learn to cope positively with the stress they experience. Unlike other courses where the textbook or the teacher may have all the answers, in health class, each student is his or her own expert. During our lesson facilitation, King Middle School students were eager to share their ideas and make connections with the topics. During our sleep lesson, students shared how not getting enough sleep impacted their health. One student mentioned that he feels exhausted and irritable the next day and we saw that other students shared a similar experience.

In health, all students are encouraged to participate and it is emphasized that there are no wrong answers. Health education information teaches us to have an open mind and that is an incredible experience for a student to have. After my semester with King Middle, I realize I wish I had a health education when I was in middle school because the students and the staff made each lesson so welcoming and supportive. I am eager to continue learning more about what health means to others, and I hope that future Emory students are as lucky as we were to have such a wonderful learning experience.

To learn more about the Health 1,2,3,4 program, visit the program webpage. For more information about collaborative partnership opportunities, contact program director Lisa DuPree at madupre@emory.edu.