Amundsen High School was a landmark I had no real connection with, even though I live only a few blocks away. Although I had never considered Amundsen as an option for high school, it was my neighborhood school that I could have attended had I not enrolled in a magnet high school instead. Passing by Amundsen even a little over six months ago, the idea of a school-based health center was unfamiliar. I could not have predicted that I would be serving as an AmeriCorps Health Educator with Erie Family Health and providing education and resources to a widely diverse population of students from across the city.
Amundsen has a total enrollment of a little over 1,000 students, and the majority of students come from low-income immigrant families that are sometimes not covered under health insurance. The service we provide as Health Educators at the school comprises nutrition counseling and coordinating free vision and dental services for the kids. However the majority of our role is teaching Teen Pregnancy Prevention classes. Although we have been able to teach at a number of schools, including Marine Leadership Academy and Golder College Prep, my main focus this past month was teaching at Amundsen.
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention classes typically consist of five consecutive lessons that include anatomy, STI’s and contraception, healthy relationships and communication, as well as sexual harassment and sexual assault. As Health Educators we are encouraged to teach a range of health-related subjects, such as stress management and self-care strategies. By working and coordinating with Amundsen teachers, I had the opportunity to teach a stress management class and a mental health class based on the novel Catcher in the Rye, in addition to a workshop on nutrition and physical activity. In order to keep the kids focused and engaged, we incorporated several hands-on activities such as making stress balls, a guided imagery exercise, and standing yoga poses. The students were very receptive and willing to participate, and I was glad to provide them with stress-relieving options they may not have previously been aware of.
While we promote self-care strategies and mindfulness exercises as well as motivate students to visit the health center, several students already utilize the health center as a place of meditation. Designated exam rooms are open to students on a daily basis to practice their prayers. In a school as widely diverse as Amundsen, even this small act of allowing the students to utilize an open room can have a tremendous impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being over time. I am grateful to serve with a non-profit organization such as Erie that supports their students’ religious customs. I look forward to incorporating additional self-care strategies into future health classes and strengthening connections between the health center and school community.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2016-17 member Robin Kanemoto.
Robin is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - Amundsen.