Instilling Healthy Habits in middle school

December 19, 2019

Some students are mouthing the words. Some are laughing out loud. Others are nodding in understanding. But as a clip of Sheldon and Amy from the TV show Big Bang Theory plays on the screen, the sixth graders in Julie Fruge’s Healthy Habits class at Vale Middle School are realizing the dinner scene is an exaggerated example of active listening.

Communication skills are just one of the life skills students will take with them after the Healthy Habits course is over. The topics covered during the 12 week course include decision making, goal setting, relationship skills, personal hygiene, social media awareness, mental and emotional health, and substance use prevention and awareness, which includes a program called CATCH My Breath (an e-cigarette and JUUL prevention program).

Though it’s a pilot program this year at seven middle schools, the plan is to expand Healthy Habits to all 20 NISD middle schools next year. The pilot schools are Hobby, Neff, Rawlinson, Rayburn, Vale, Zachry, and Northside Alternative Middle School.

“It's a big transition from elementary school to middle school – socially, emotionally, mentally and physically,” said Danielle Leon, Instructional Support Teacher, Health and Physical Education Department. “Recognizing this, we feel that this course will provide an opportunity for all sixth grade students to learn skills that will empower them to adjust to this life-changing transition in a healthy way and can positively impact them throughout their lives.”

Each class starts with a mindfulness exercise, where students are guided through breathing exercises to calm and center themselves. There’s often soft music playing and the lights are dimmed.

“You put things to the side and don’t worry about them during class which could interrupt your learning,” said sixth grader Matthew Dessens. “In here you learn more about how to take care of yourself.”

Sixth grader Mia Hernandez likes the group discussions, partner activities, and writing in her class journal.

“It’s helped me be social with others, be calmer, and take care of my emotions,” said Hernandez. “This class has had an effect on me.”

Dessens likes the Chillax Corner set up on one side of the room. There are pillows and chairs, fidget toys like stress balls, and a timer to remind students when it’s time to rejoin the class.

“They’re areas for students to self-regulate, get away and breathe, and take a break if needed,” said Fruge. “It’s a safe place where students can use strategies they’ve learned to calm down, center themselves, or refocus.”

The Healthy Habits course is just one example of the “whole child” initiatives supported by Northside ISD to encourage healthy lifestyles, responsible decision making and social and emotional wellness.