Hot topics in health ed

children eating grapes

Written by: Heather Gillin (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: October 01, 2018

The modern-day health education class is more than just the food pyramid and sex ed.

Dr. Meagan Shipley, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M, said hot-button issues like bullying and mental health are vital to school health education today.

“Teaching students about topics like opioid misuse and abuse can be very challenging, but it is important to introduce it so later on they can be the catalyst for change,” Dr. Shipley said.

Shipley prepares preservice teachers to be well-rounded health educators in schools. She said teaching young people about concepts like mental wellness and nutrition can go with a child into their adult life.

“Health education is a proactive field that gets people passionate and healthy prior to certain illnesses and conditions arising,” Shipley said. “It's much easier to reach them as children than it is to reach them later as adults when unhealthy behaviors have already been established.”

Shipley prepares preservice teachers to educate outside the classroom through conducting health fairs, working with English language learners and helping with literacy programs.

“Through this training they're exposed to a variety of ways in which they can teach health lessons, but also that they can incorporate health into more traditional subject areas.”

Teaching mental health

Dr. Shipley said as a society we are not always proactive in acknowledging mental health or mental illness. She trains preservice health teachers to break the stigma surrounding mental health to normalize the topic.

“The more you teach about mental health and model positive approaches to mental health, you're eventually going to impact students, but it takes time and experience to make that impact.”

Similarly, she said bullying prevention is not being taught early enough. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 20 percent of students are bullied at school.

“Bullying prevention is something that needs to be taught very early on to inform students how to develop healthy friendships and relationships.”

Prioritizing teachers to benefit students

Shipley tells preservice teachers to invest in the health of their fellow educators to create positive role models for kids.

“It is important that health educators serve teachers and administrators too,” Shipley said. “Teachers work really hard and have long days, so if we can bring resources to them, then they are more effective at their job, which benefits their students.”

She said prioritizing teacher health and wellbeing by providing things like discounted fitness courses and nutrition workshops can prevent teacher burnout.

“By facilitating their wellness, we are impacting students, but we're also prioritizing teacher's health and well-being,” Shipley said. “This can avoid teacher burnout, keeping them happy, healthy and feeling appreciated.”

Shipley emphasized that a healthy child is a child that has potential to excel in all other facets of life, including core subjects like math and science. She hopes that communities and parents will rally for more health education in schools.

“Teaching young people to appreciate their health and wellbeing establishes a foundation for them to become productive, healthy adults,” Shipley said. “If we foster an appreciation for health, that can become the new normal.”

Read more about Dr. Meagan Shipley.