By: Olivia Berger
Editor’s Note: This piece is the first of X 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.
My time at King Middle School proved to be incredibly valuable to me and to the students I got the pleasure of interacting with. One of my favorite aspects about the Graduation Generation program offered by the 4th level of the Health 1,2,3 Program is that college students get a unique opportunity to connect with younger students in a way that is hard to achieve living on a college campus. I really enjoyed traveling to King Middle School each week, and although the experience was cut short due to COVID-19, the weeks I spent observing and implementing our lessons were very meaningful for my personal growth. The opportunity demonstrated how interacting with younger students enhanced my understanding of health programs in public middle schools and how much health education means to me. Over the course of my time at King, I observed how much students care about their personal health and recognized how influential our interactions in the classroom with the students for on shaping their view of health and their future. I believe health education in middle school and high school students is critical, even more so in communities that lack resources and funding to support the delivery of health education.
Growing up in a household and neighborhood that prioritized health and wellness, the lessons we learned in school became a bit repetitive. After attending Emory and being highly involved in the Health 1, 2, 3 program, I realized how necessary health education is, even if I didn’t see it as a child. When I was at King Middle School, this became extremely evident. During our first nutrition lesson, we asked students to raise their hand and tell us what their favorite afternoon snack was. This was an ice-breaker activity we used to get students talking, and for us to gauge what they understood about healthy eating. Almost every student shared that their favorite snack was some sort of processed good. A lot of students shared their love for Top Ramen and Takis together as the perfect afternoon snack, or Oreos and Flaming Hot Cheetos mixed with some form of dip like Skippy or Cream Cheese. This was an eye-opening exercise for me—I wrongfully assumed that healthy eating habits were something these kids already knew about. To me, that made teaching them about the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, the importance of fiber, carbohydrates and protein, and how to prepare healthy afternoon snacks even more crucial.
The next week we came back, we made both whole grain quesadillas packed with vegetables and smoothies. A critical part of this interaction with the students was facilitating a conversation about what ingredients were beneficial to their health, what it did for their bodies, how easy it was to prepare and how delicious it tasted. For example, one of the girls who was working close to me was choosing what ingredients to put in her quesadilla. We provided a plethora of options so students had the opportunity to explore and try new vegetables they may not normally eat. As students were writing down ingredients to add, one student, without prompting, looked up after she had written her ingredients on her sheet of paper and said: “Olivia, I have beans for protein and some veggies that give me fiber and the cheese makes my bones strong, this is good right?”
I knew at this moment that our lesson was paying off and that the key messages were resonating with the students. It warmed my heart to know that she was comprehending this information and wanted to incorporate the information to select beneficial ingredients that have positive impacts on her body and health. It was such a rewarding feeling for me as a mentor to be able to tell her that she did a great job and was really understanding the purpose of this activity. After preparation, she loved the quesadillas and was shocked at how easy they were to make and how good they tasted. As this activity went on, I watched students grasp the importance of each ingredient and why these snacks were more nutritious than their typical preferences. It was a great feeling knowing that my team introduced these students to skills and knowledge surrounding healthy eating that they can take home with them.
My hope is that the King students continue to learn more about their health and what it means for their future. I have no doubt that the interaction and implementation of the lessons we delivered made a difference in the lives of the students we interacted with. My understanding of the key role that health education plays in the growth and development of youth is something that I will carry forward from this experience.