Leading a healthy life starts with learning healthy habits and implementing them into everyday life. Of course, this is best learned early on! It is why I am so fortunate to serve as a Health Educator, at Tiger Academy YMCA, a tuition-free school serving children of north Jacksonville and their families. Here, I teach students in prekindergarten through second grade about the importance of eating healthy and staying active. It is my hope to plant a seed of knowledge in the students here so that as they grow, they have the tools to lead happier and healthier lives. Amazingly, I’ve already seen an impact on the kids here at Tiger Academy.
Through the NHC Florida AmeriCorps program, I have the pleasure of teaching something I’m most passionate about and influencing the health behaviors of up to 170 of the most adorable children each week. I feel a little bit like a celebrity when I walk down the halls and five tiny children hug me all at once saying, “Ms. Mckenzie, Ms. McKenzie! When are you gonna come back to our class and teach Nutrition?” A few “I love you’s” thrown in there really seal the deal. While every lesson is not perfect, it is still very rewarding to see the impact my nutrition classes are making on the kids.
The nutrition lessons I’ve taught so far have all emphasized trying to eat a lot of “GO” foods and not as much “WHOA” foods. As you might have guessed, GO foods are healthy foods that give your body the energy and nutrients you need to stay healthy and WHOA foods are unhealthy foods like candy, ice cream, french fries that we should try to eat only occasionally. The concept is easy for the kids to grasp, and we have a lot of fun with it! For example, I taught students the “WHOA Foods Handshake,” with corresponding lyrics to help students remember what WHOA foods are. It reminds them to look out for foods with added sugars, extra salt, and foods fried in grease. It has become quite popular with the students! I see kids doing the handshake with each other, and they even try to stop me in the hallway to do the handshake! That’s how I know the material from class is starting to stick.
Students pass me in the hallways and say, “Ms. McKenzie, I ate a GO foods today!” Then I get to reply with a “That’s awesome, way to go!” and give them a high five. Students LOVE giving me examples of fruits or vegetables that they’ve had recently. One of them may tell me, “Ms. McKenzie, I ate a WHOA foods today.” As they grin in telling me so, I know they are aware of what they’re eating.
Lastly, I noticed while I was trying to teach the kids about healthy fruits and vegetables that many of them had just never seen these foods before. Knowing this, I decided to bring in different fruits and vegetables for students to see, touch, and perhaps even smell. They absolutely LOVED it. For many of the students, it was the first time they had ever even seen that specific fruit or vegetable. Their reactions were absolutely priceless. The kindergarten class ooh’d and ah'd when they saw the inside of a kiwi while the second graders could barely contain themselves when they saw the inside of an avocado. It made me all giddy inside to think that just by simply showing them the inside of a fruit, I was impacting their learning and helping shape their perception of healthy foods. I thought to myself, “This is why teachers teach.” It’s the kiwi and avocado moments. It’s when you get them excited to learn and when they start to apply the knowledge you taught them outside of the classroom. It is impactful moments like these that I am so very excited to continue making here at Tiger Academy throughout my term of service. Being able to help shape the minds of children every day is so rewarding, and I look forward to more lessons and more kiwi and avocado moments!
This blog was written by Mckenzie Edwards.
Mckenzie serves at Tiger Academy YMCA as a Health Educator.