I love being healthy. Who doesn't, but what do we mean when we say ‘I live a healthy lifestyle’? It would be fair to assume what normally comes to mind is exercise and a clean and balanced diet. These things are definitely part of living healthily, however, there are many more complex components of health that are all interconnected and affect the overall well-being of a person. This is what St. Anne’s students have been learning beyond the typical experience of a health and PE class.
The curriculum for all middle school health classes is structured around seven dimensions of health which include physical, mental and emotional, social, spiritual, financial, occupational, and intellectual. When we treat each dimension with equal care we move toward a more thriving life. Each lesson sits on a foundation of social and emotional learning (SEL), a process through which students understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. A systemic approach to SEL intentionally cultivates a caring, participatory, and equitable learning environment and evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional, and academic growth.
Health class at St. Anne’s is more than an academic pursuit, it is a community-building opportunity. The goal is to have students experience an environment where they feel comfortable to share ideas, ask questions, support peer opinions and feel respected and valued. Every class begins with a mindfulness practice focusing one's awareness on the present moment, often paired with an intentional breathing practice. Current research in this area has found that mindfulness practice can enhance both academic performance and mental health in middle schoolers. This practice sets the intention of the class and is a time where we connect as a community on a social and emotional level. Once the intention of the class has been established we move into the core of the lesson which includes peer or whole-class discussions, role-playing scenarios, activities to provoke thoughtful and creative responses, and learning skills that students can apply in their journey through middle school and beyond.
Here are a few student comments from the current 7th-grade health class:
“I think the most interesting thing I have learned is the social media part of health. It has helped many people and when I get a social media account I will know what to do with it now”
“Honestly, I think the most interesting thing that we have learned about is mental health. I had used the skills that we had learned from the teaching and activities during that segment, and had applied them to my real life. There was also a time when Mr. Egan had taught us mindful breathing techniques. I have been using these techniques when I need to calm down or take the time to rest.”
“I have learned about how to build yourself up with positive influences/surroundings.”
“I have learned that you don't have to be a bystander and you have the ability to advocate for yourself or someone else.”