This year, I participated in a class taught by Mrs. Thomas, called Language Arts/Health. By combining these two subject areas, I’ve been able to open up and put learning in a different perspective.
In Language Arts/Health class, my student peers and I learned about physical and mental health topics that I never knew enough about before. We learned about addiction and peer pressure, how to deal with medical emergencies, and how to be emotionally and mentally healthy. Then we found ways to connect those complicated topics with a more familiar subject area like Language Arts. For example, we studied Shakespeare’s figurative language, read famous literature to learn about and discuss symbolism, and learned how to use literary structure to write meaningful reflections about ourselves.
Forming these connections made it easier to understand each health subject because I was able to approach unfamiliar topics, by interpreting them through familiar classroom subjects.
According to Mrs. Thomas, “It’s important that the kids feel safe.” Having a safe learning environment lead me to trust my teacher and student peers while we learned about topics that aren’t always talked about in school. Some of these topics included real problems that I previously had to learn about on my own — topics that were considered taboo. Because of that, I had built a bubble around myself over time, unintentionally hindering my own learning. But Mrs. Thomas helped me feel safe. In the end, I was able to open up — even if it was only a little bit — to my friends, teachers, and to myself.
A recent assignment that made me think about trust and safety was called the “I AM” Poem. The purpose of this assignment was for students to write about who they are, including their thoughts and emotions. Admittedly, when I first wrote my poem, I didn’t write it about myself. I wrote it as fast as I could because I didn’t think of it as a chance to explore, be creative, or be authentic. I thought about it as just another assignment that I needed to finish as soon as possible. After I finished my draft, I read another students poem: Annabelle’s.
Annabelle used her poem as a chance to express how she felt in the moment. I thought it was great and I fully realized what our poems were supposed to be about. When I read her poem, I understood what she was feeling and I saw her emotions on a deeper level. I hadn’t accessed that part of myself in my own poem and after reading hers, I wanted to.
So I decided to re-write mine authentically. In the end, I was proud of it. It was about the real me. When I first wrote it, I was tired and wanted to go home so I put that in my poem; a joke in a truth. Everything I had previously written was superficial. So when I rewrote the poem, I had to think hard about who I am.
I started by changing the first line of my poem to, “I am a withdrawn and self-critical person who likes to create.” I spent a lot of time thinking about that line because it was an integral part of my poem. When I wrote that line, the poem that followed came from a place of true honesty.
I talked about what I wanted for my future, and what I felt in the past. I wrote sad lines and happy ones. I wrote about my dreams and feelings, in the present, past, and future. I was opening up to not only Mrs.Thomas and my friends, but to myself — something I didn’t often do.
A few years ago, I had lost my drive to write but this Language Arts/Health class led me to remember how much I enjoyed writing in the first place. Now, I write much more for myself because I’ve learned about the power and importance of self-reflection.
Language Arts/Health was an experimental class. And although it will evolve and change with time, everything I learned I believe I will keep with me. There haven’t been many classes that have had such a profound effect on me.
By connecting curriculum topics and conducting large-scale classroom experiments, Dayton is finding ways to make kids feel more involved in their learning. Every assignment in this class taught me how to put my thoughts onto paper, while showing me the importance of my emotional health and how it connects to my education. As I move into my sophomore year of high school, I will remember the importance of being true to myself in every way.
Emily Carter is a freshman at Dayton High School. She has a passion for music and art, having drawn her whole life and played the flute for 3 years. She plans to go to OHSU after she graduates high school to study forensics and become a medical examiner.