Connection is Key!

I had the pleasure of speaking to hundreds of high school students in Sun Prairie this month.  It never ceases to amaze me with the diverse lifestyles some of these kids come from.  Let me explain a typical setting when you go in and speak to group of kids you have never seen before.

Generally speaking, having a speaker in the classroom is a break from the student’s normal routine. I love it when teachers ask them to put their phones away, clear their ears of ear buds and put everything on the floor. I know then that I will have all of their attention (or at least it appears so). The stage is set and I look out at the students, wondering who I will connect with that day.  Having lived a healthy lifestyle for the last part of my life thus far has been a journey.  I have found through many experiences and mistakes, that I personally feel much better when I take care of myself physically and mentally. The journey was not easy for me and I have tweaked some things along the way and I continue to look for ways to be healthier.  It has been a journey that has enabled me to connect emotionally to students.

Stories, stories, stories.  I’m full of them.  Talking about cancer, detection, and living a healthy lifestyle is one of my passions so the words and stories flow naturally for me. I feel like my approach is almost mom-ish.  Is that a word?  My intent is to make my audience feel connected in a warm and welcoming way so the listener feels they can openly engage about the topic at hand.  It is very important for me to grab their interest within the first couple of minutes.  I need to make myself likable, engaging and informative in a very short period of time.

Students generally come from varied backgrounds. Their lives are all different.  Some of them have families that would seem for the most part “normal” which provide a healthy and nurturing environment.  Others, not so. I hear stories where the odds are against them.  Unhealthy environments of drug use, one or both parents in jail, homelessness, ongoing domestics, a single parent working so much to provide he/she is never home.  Some kids have lost parents to cancer or are dealing with it.  Some kids are dealing with cancer themselves or are in remission. My point is you never know who your audience is and how any one student is going to react to the presentation. 

One student, who appeared shy and timid had put her head down the entire presentation. She was tired as she was up all night listening to her parents argue. She was hungry because her parents fed her fast food and pizza every day.  She hated it and was sick of eating the same foods.  She has no memory of her parents ever cooking. She was in survival mode. Emotionally, mentally and physically she was exhausted and the worry and look on her face surpassed the years in age she was.  Hearing me speak gave her a glimpse of things that are in her control. The importance of sleep, eating the healthiest things she could find at school, and exercise. She never thought of some the things I spoke of. The smallest steps you can take every day add up to make the changes and impact on anyone’s overall health. She craved to be healthier. She wanted it badly but her home life was working against her.

Heartbreaking, but unfortunately common. Statistically 82% of our children aren’t eating the recommended five servings of fruits and veggies a day. Sometimes by choice but some because those foods just aren’t brought into the home.  I encourage kids to learn to start taking advantage of the things that are available to them in school. Some eat breakfast and lunch so I show them how one can get two or three servings alone while they are there. Choose whole grain whenever you can, cut out sports drinks and soda and replace with water and milk.  Give it some time and notice how much better you feel and think. Skip the fast food and challenge yourself to learn a new skill like cooking. Habits become harder to break the longer we do them. Create some healthy ones that are habits you future self will be thankful for! Those days in Sun Prairie had me thinking the whole way home. I am so grateful for this job and the ability to pass on information that can impact our youth in a positive way. We  not only educate, we connect.