By: Mimi Xu, Ayana Dickens, and Avani Patel            

Editor’s Note: This piece is the fourth 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 first piece in the series. You can read the second one here and the third one here.

As students at one of the top universities, we inherently strive for the best. Emory is also comprised of a multitude of cultures that reflect a worldly perspective. As a result, it is the responsibility of Emory students to use these traits to give back to the Atlanta community, particularly in the areas of public health and health education. These interactions are mutualistic in nature, encouraging shared learning for all parties involved. 

Through collaborative partnerships established by entities like Health 1, 2, 3 and Graduation Generation, Emory students can learn from the distinct Atlanta community and Atlanta can benefit from the passion Emory students have for leaving the world a better place than they found it. When the opportunity to volunteer with Graduation Generation and Health 1,2,3 at King Middle School was presented, I knew that extending my passion for teaching predictive health to middle school students would be a great learning experience that would enhance my professional development and offer the opportunity to give back at the same time.

My exposure to the Health 1,2,3 program motivated me to participate in this initiative. The Health 100 course offered to first-year students at Emory encompasses a variety of topics, from stress management to healthy eating habits, in order to foster a healthy lifestyle among students as they transition into the next chapter of their lives. From my own personal experience with the Health 100 course, I felt an intrinsic motivation to seek additional knowledge behind the foundational concepts of predictive health. This spurred my interest in taking Health 200 and, following that, I became a Peer Health Partner.

Throughout the fall semester, it was enriching to see my peers take charge of their own health habits and humbling to educate them on leading a healthy lifestyle. By participating in this initiative with Health 1,2, 3 and Graduation Generation, I knew I would have the opportunity to tap into that motivation once again while also supporting the greater Atlanta area and continuing to grow my professional skill set.

Image of a woman standing in front of a whiteboard, her back is to the viewer. Two students are looking at the board.
Mimi Xu teaching students at King Middle School.

A lot of planning went into developing activities to keep the middle school students engaged and it proved to be somewhat difficult at times. After meeting with faculty at King Middle School to identify the needs for the content, we went right to work, implementing new ideas and framing our lesson plans to cater to their young minds. We had to think outside the box for this project, since our usual audience, as Peer Health Partners, was incoming college freshman. We had to consider questions like: What activities would middle schoolers find interesting?  How can we translate evidence-based health information and concepts to a middle school learning level? How could we make them feel safe about voicing their opinions in front of the entire class? It was definitely a challenge, but in the end it was worth it.

Seeing their eyes light up whenever they got a question right or seeing them take the knowledge that we gave them and run with it was amazing. There’s one instance in particular where we had the students play a theater game called Night Watchmen/Night at the Museum. The point of the game was to teach them about the difference between eustress and distress and display that stress can motivate and increase performance or can generate anxiety and decrease performance. When the game was over, we asked the students how they felt about the game. All of a sudden, so many hands went up in the air; the students were anxious to express their opinions. When I related the game back to eustress and distress, it was almost as if I saw a light bulb switch on in their heads as they muttered “Oh! I get it now!”.

Image of a lightbulb floating above a person's hand as if it were about to be caught.
Students had some important “A ha!” moments during their sessions with Human Health students
Photo by Júnior Ferreira on Unsplash

It was an honor teaching the middle school students at King and it was heartwarming to know that the knowledge I gained at Emory was able to benefit others in my community.  At the end of each session, the students completed a “ticket out the door”. These short surveys were used as a tool to assess learning, and students were able to describe key concepts and messages presented in the lessons. The surveys indicated that we were successfully engaging the students in a discourse that challenged traditional views of health.

By going through the detailed lesson development process with the Health 1,2,3 team, we successfully identified tools to engage and navigate difficult conversations with a new audience, middle schoolers, while ensuring that all the students were heard.  Throughout this experience, we learned to adapt to the needs of our audience, and attempt new strategies to engage the students. The experience played a key role in my professional development, as I learned the importance of adapting to meet evolving needs.

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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