Editor’s Note: This piece is the third of four student essays about their experiences participating in Health 1,2,3’s classroom to community 4th level component. See here to learn more about this new program and read the second one here.

By: Mimi Xu, Ayana Dickens, and Avani Patel

When adults and students are asked what they think the most important classes in school are, many would name science, English, and math. Very few recognize the fundamental class that all others depend on—health education. This class is an area that has long been neglected in the education system. Without a clear understanding of health, the body’s functions and how to maintain one’s well-being, knowledge a student gains in other subjects can become futile and achievement potential can become diminished. Academic success hinges on a student’s ability to balance their physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional health. Research indicates that students who receive health education are more likely to perform better in other subjects and have higher attendance. “Eat vegetables, drink water, exercise often.” Most students know these activities to be beneficial to the human body. What many fail to recognize, however, is the mental and emotional aspect of health.

Very few students, and even adults, realize that although physical health is important, it is only a small portion of one’s overall well-being that can contribute to flourishing health only in the presence of positive mental health. However, hardly any public primary and secondary schools acknowledge its significance or even teach it in their classrooms. It is not until college, and oftentimes not even then, that students exposed to the concept of mental health and its relation to their well-being. To further help students manage the stressors that they face in school and life outside of education, it is crucial to expose students to this concept much sooner. Middle school is a great place to begin as health education develops positive attitudes towards health and increases health promoting behaviors that students will use to make healthy choices throughout their lifetime.

Image of a college aged African American woman standing in front of a table of young, African American children, who look to be in their early teen years. The students all have a piece of paper in front of them.
Ayana Dickens working with Graduation Generation students.

Growing up in an inner city myself, I (Ayana Dickens) was taught about the “basics” in health that only began to scratch the surface. We were taught: “Get 8 hours of sleep every night,” “Please wear condoms and don’t have unprotected sex or else you’ll get an STD,” “Depression is bad and if not treated, it can lead to suicide.”

Emory University opened my eyes as a freshman in Health 100. I was taught all of the different aspects of health and I came face to face with the reality that I was uneducated due to the lack of knowledge I received years prior to coming to Emory. Overtime, I recognized the influence of my health on my academics and grew hungry to learn more. I had a passion to teach and decided to take Health 200, which led be to become a PHP in the fall of 2017. After this, I still wanted to reach more unaware individuals like I once was and understand more about the gaps in our education system. So when Graduation Generation and Health 1,2,3 presented me with the opportunity to teach middle schoolers about health, I had to take it.

Academic success hinges on a student’s ability to balance their physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional health.

Through the partnership between Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health and Graduation Generation’s at King Middle School, we, as Emory students, volunteered to introduced students to the concepts that are currently not being addressed at the school. We focused our lesson on topics related to positive mental health, stress, values and strengths, and time management. Through the lessons, the middle school students were able to acknowledge and describe their state of well-being, learn ways to manage daily tasks, and utilize strategies to manage difficulties that school and life throw their way.

It was wonderful teaching the students about health, watching them learn, seeing them remember skills that we taught them from the previous week and use them for the next week’s lesson. Knowing that we helped the Atlanta community was truly a rewarding experience. Due to the success of our team, Graduation Generation and Health 1,2,3 will continue their partnership at King Middle School for the 2019-2020 academic year to meet this critical need for health education.

To learn more about the Health 1,2,3 program or how to get involved with the 4th level experience, e-mail Health 1,2,3 Program Director, Lisa DuPree at madupre@emory.edu

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