Our next ASpotlight Interview is with Maya Jourieh, Health and Wellness Educator and Health Office Assistant at Allen-Stevenson. Read below to learn how her many roles at Allen-Stevenson build off of each other to create a comprehensive position that celebrates the connection between physical and mental health.
You joined the Health Office this year. What is it about working in this office that interests you?
I was drawn to the position because I love helping people, especially students. It brings me a lot of joy. Working with School Nurse Meghan Little is amazing! She has really helped me grow in this position.
You are currently working on a Master of Science in Health Education. Can you tell me your trajectory to pursuing that degree?
Last year, I finished my advanced certification in physical education while working in the Athletics Department at Allen-Stevenson. My undergraduate degree is in psychology. I have always loved physical education because it gives me a sense of self, and activity helps ground me. I think this new degree ties in well with my undergraduate degree in that physical activity can be very therapeutic for people, children and adults alike. No matter what athletic interests someone may have, they are still doing something to better their physical and mental health.
After completing my physical education certification, I decided to pursue a Master of Science in Health Education, which I am currently completing. I started pursuing this degree before considering the position in our Health Office. It just seemed like a natural progression for me to balance out my background in physical education with an understanding of health education. Working in the Health Office has allowed me to continue to look at these areas holistically.
I hear that you teach a sixth-grade Health and Wellness class. How long have you been teaching this class, and can you tell me about the curriculum that you cover over the year?
This is my second year teaching sixth-grade Health and Wellness. I took the existing curriculum as a base, then created my own unique lesson plans and units.
The main focus for sixth-grade Health and Wellness, considering curriculum standards and what is developmentally appropriate, is on nutrition, alcohol, and drugs. Then there are subtopics that fall beneath these categories. We have a lot of conversations surrounding important questions. What do drugs and alcohol do to your body? Why do people choose to start drinking or taking drugs? Why do they continue doing it even if they know it’s bad for them?
I want our boys to be inquisitive and aware of what’s happening in the world. I want them to be open and empathetic. These topics are very sensitive, and I want my students to understand why and be able to talk about them in an appropriate and respectful way. This is how we develop a comprehensive education around these subjects that will equip our boys to make smart and healthy choices.
Currently, we have been discussing nutrition. One project I had the boys do for Halloween was to dissect the food label of a Halloween treat and use their findings to suggest an alternative, healthier option. From there, we moved into a discussion on the health side effects of bad nutrition. I created a project that incorporated art and abstract thinking by having them turn unhealthy eating into a manifestation of art. They performed skits and dialogues, and one group created an installation art piece depicting a physical couch potato where they put a couch in a room and covered it with chip bags. Each boy submitted a paragraph outlining their thinking.
Do you have a favorite unit to teach in sixth-grade Health and Wellness?
My favorite classes to teach focus on peer pressure. These classes are more conversational than anything else, and the boys are especially engaged because this topic is relatable to them. We talk about the difference between a bystander and an upstander and what it means to face peer pressure. I want the topic to be more meaningful than me simply telling them not to give in to peer pressure. This topic is also complex. For example, can there be good kinds of peer pressure? If a friend is encouraging you to engage in healthy, positive behaviors, is that still peer pressure? How do you define peer pressure, and is it always a negative concept? This unit ties in a lot of social-emotional learning and gets our boys engaged and thinking.
Can you describe your role in our Athletics Department?
I give so much praise to our Athletics Department. I have learned so much about physical education from them. I joined Allen-Stevenson in the Athletics Department and began by observing lots of physical education classes…Lower School in particular. I was ultimately given the opportunity to help coach this age. At the moment, I work with Kindergarten and Second Grade.
I love teaching our Lower School boys. In graduate school, Elementary Methods was my favorite course because my teacher had a particular passion for Kindergarten, and it showed through in his teaching. You can play and be a kid while learning - that’s what I love about it! I want the boys to understand from a young age that you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy sports or exercise. Being healthy and active can take on so many different forms, whether you like to do martial arts or play basketball or dance.
In what ways does your role in the Athletics Department overlap with your work in the Health Office?
All my various roles overlap and feed into each other. Whatever the boys learn in Health and Wellness will help them during physical education and vice versa. I also really like getting to know the students in three different settings. I see them in the Health Office. I see them in physical education, and I see them in sixth-grade Health and Wellness class. I have the unique opportunity to see three different sides of boys’ personalities. It’s a very wholesome position and I’m able to develop deeper relationships.
How do you think having female athletes in the Allen-Stevenson Athletics Department is beneficial to our boys’ physical education?
‘Female athletes’ isn’t actually the word choice I would use. I think I would say ‘female physical education teachers and coaches.’ My goal has always been to emphasize that not everyone is an athlete, and that’s okay. We want the boys to understand that you don’t have to be an athlete to be healthy and enjoy exercise and sports.
It’s important for the boys to have a female role model in our Athletics Department. I think that this all relates to the phrase we often say here at Allen-Stevenson … “There are many ways to be a boy.” The flip side of that saying is that there are many ways to be a girl. It’s so important for our boys to see both genders across departments because it reinforces the idea that both genders are welcome to pursue any profession. They should not feel that their gender dictates what interests they are allowed to have. The important thing is to put in the effort and enjoy what you’re doing. I want my students to try new things and find what works for them as an individual, not as a boy.