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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.

Our health is something that is deeply personal and has important implications for our entire life. Therefore, learning healthy habits and having “healthful conversations” (engaging in helpful health related discussions with others) is essential at a young age. I didn’t fully understand the importance of health education until I started the Health 1,2,3,4 program. When I was a student in Health 100, I was introduced to essential health concepts, such as time and energy management, that assisted me during my freshman year experience. Then, by becoming an expert in the content during Health 200, I gained the tools needed to become an effective Peer Health Partner in Health 300. Providing freshman students with sustainable tools and concepts, backed up with reliable data, showed me the true impact that this program has. Health became more than just viewing healthy habits through the lens of the familiar quote “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Instead, it transformed my thinking to a holistic process that involves focusing on each pillar of health: physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Transitioning to Health 497, I was able to use my foundation in Health 300 to start my journey into community health education. I worked with King Middle School students this semester which allowed me to be a part of a partnership where I learned as much as I taught. One lesson that stood out to me was when my partner and I were teaching the students about the relationship between physical activity and emotional health. Growing up, I never learned that physical activity has an effect on anything else but my physical health. However, in this lesson, we explored the effects that engaging in physical activity can have on our emotional well-being. In order to do this, I explained how physical activity may help bump up the production of the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals or chemicals that trigger happiness, called endorphins. All of a sudden, a student interrupted me and started telling the class how other things can also cause an increase in endorphins, such as spicy food. In a zoom class, having students unmute themselves instead of typing in the chat can feel like a miracle. When one student shared vocally, I, and everyone else in the class, could hear the excitement in his voice as he was engaging with the content and teaching us something new.

Another lesson that I thought was effective was the positive mental health mini lecture. In my middle school health career, we never talked about the significance of taking care of our mental health. However, as knowledge of this aspect of health is increasing worldwide, this topic is gaining importance. In this lesson, we taught the students about PERMA (the elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments) and about FLOW activities. We explained that being in a state of “flow” indicates areas in our life where we feel engaged. When we are engaged in activities that challenge us, but we perform well when doing them, this can increase our mental well-being. These were concepts that were unfamiliar to most of the students, similar to me before I entered this program. If these students start using the tools we taught them to take care of their mental health at a young age, they can learn lifelong healthy habits.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work with peers who are passionate, creative, and care about the well-being of the younger generation. Additionally, I am also grateful to the students for welcoming us into their virtual classrooms and participating in our activities. Quality health education in public schools is essential as it builds the foundation for later habits. Health concepts are not things we learn one day and forget about the next. Instead, health is a personal, lifelong journey that impacts daily living. I am hopeful that Emory continues its partnership with King Middle School and more passionate students join the team.

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.