I made my 3rd visit to OLM today; here is what we talked about:
4th Grade – No Way Out
With the hazards that mother nature can sometimes stir up for us in mind, I thought it would be a good time to talk to the kids about safety. Hopefully, all of the kids like to do things outdoors, but its important that they don’t put themselves in risky situations needlessly. We started class by talking about the importance of things like wearing a helmet when riding a bike or following the lifeguards directions when you are at the beach. Every year, I hear a handful of stories from the schools that I teach at about kids that get hurt playing outside because they didn’t take a basic precaution (this year, one of my students was in Children’s Hospital for a week because he didn’t wear a helmet on his bike).
After that, we watched a PSA about the flood control channels in LA County. “No Way Out” is (by far) the oldest video I have (in order to do it justice I should play it on an old reel to reel projector). However, like a pine tree the message of the video is evergreen, and it always leaves an impression on the students that see it.
The video was produced in the 90’s in a joint effort by many LA County and City agencies to bring safety awareness regarding the concrete flood channels in the southland. These cement rivers are not meant for recreation, and although it (almost) never rains in Southern California, flooding is a very real issue when it does.
The video has lots of exciting footage of water rescues, and it finishes with a very sad story about a local boy (Adam Bischoff of Woodland Hills) that drowned in the channels. I show the video not just to show the dangers of the storm channels, but also to emphasize the importance of not taking unnecessary risks when it comes to all of the recreational activities the kids participate in.
Unfortunately, just last year another teenager was killed in the flood channels when Elias “Eli” Rodriguez fell into the wash on his way to his grandmother’s house from school in Sylmar last February. I show this lesson at my schools, so that our kids know the risks and hopefully help them think twice about putting themselves into these precarious situations.
5th Grade – Time to Make A Good Decision
My third day with the 5th graders was spent talking about decision making. At the beginning of the class the kids broke up into groups and played a decision-making game. There are 12 scenario cards (an example is pictured above); the kids take turns reading the cards and then they reveal their answers Rock, Paper, Scissors style with the Yes, No and Maybe cards.
Some of the themes and topics we covered include:
- You have a chance to cheat; what do you do?
- A friend tells you a secret; do you tell?
- You find a wallet with money and an ID; do you try to return it?
- Your mom tells you to do your homework and read for a specific amount of time, but you want to watch TV; do you obey mom’s orders?
- You see a student doing something dangerous at school; do you tell a teacher?
- You break something at your friend’s house and they get blamed; do you speak up?
The kids really got into it, and we finished the class by talking about some of the scenarios as a group. I emphasized that our decisions shape who we are and how others see us; I want the kids to understand that having integrity and doing the right thing is a habit that needs to be ingrained just like brushing your teeth and eating healthy.
Almost all 5th graders have a good handle on what is right and what is wrong when it comes to these types of decisions. However, kids that age (and sometimes adults too) would rather come up with elaborate reasons to justify doing what’s wrong instead of just keeping it simple and doing what’s right.
6th Grade – Caffeine and Stimulants
During this lesson I talked to the students about what caffeine is: a stimulant drug that is in many foods and drinks consumed in the US. I explained that stimulants are drugs that speed everything up; people often use stimulants because they speed up your heart rate, give a sense of increased energy and added focus and can keep a person awake for long periods of time. People that abuse stimulants may have heart problems, they may have trouble concentrating and they may be unable to sleep. In addition to caffeine, other stimulant drugs include tobacco (must be 21+ to use), prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin (used for conditions like ADD and narcolepsy), and illegal drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy. Although these drugs differ in strength and effects, if abused they can all yield similar problems.
During class we screened a few minutes of a video about caffeine abuse. The video covers the story of a teenage athlete that passed out on the field after overusing caffeine. While watching the video, I also explained the importance of reading and understanding nutrition labels on food and drinks, and I also shared some stories of caffeine abuse from the schools that I have been teaching in over the past few years.
After the video, I told the kids the average amount of caffeine in the most common caffeinated drinks, and I answered questions about any products the kids may have encountered. Here are the caffeine levels in the most popular caffeinated food and drinks:
- soda/colas: 30-50 mg per 12 oz can
- Monster/Rockstar: 160 mg per can
- Red Bull (small can): 90 mg per can
- 5 hr Energy: 200-250 per bottle
- Starbucks: 225-430 mg depending on size
- Keurig K – cup: 75-150
- Hershey’s Kiss – 1 mg
After going over these amounts, I gave the kids a rule for how much caffeine a growing kid (middle school, high school, maybe halfway into college) should not exceed:
No More Than 1mg Per Pound Per Day (1mg/lb/day)
This rule is based on a recommendation from the Canadian Government regarding kids and caffeine use. For one reason or another, the US has never made a ruling for how much caffeine a person of any age should have.
I emphasized to the kids that this rule is for them to use as they grow. Adults can have higher amounts of caffeine without negative results, and caffeine does not have the same risks for adults associated with the more powerful stimulants or drugs in other categories (so there’s no need for your child to slap the coffee or diet coke out of your hand in terror tomorrow morning).
7th/8th – Steroids and Supplements
I talked about steroids, supplements and crash diets with the 7th and 8th grade. I started the class by discussing why athletes may be tempted to use steroids even though it is cheating and wrong.
I also talked about the addictive behavior that some steroid users might fall into that could be caused by mental illness. Similar (but in reverse) to a person suffering from an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, an extreme body builder may compulsively uses steroids to build muscles that can never be large enough. Whatever disruptive or unhealthy addiction a person develops, the root of the problem lies in mental illness. The destructive habit is just the product of the problem.
We also talked about how steroids work and what the side effects are. Sure, you can take steroids to build muscle or recover faster, but you will also have to deal with the side effects of manipulating the hormones in your body.
After that introduction, we watched portions of a documentary called “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”. The movie tells the story of three brothers that started body building in their teens. The video discusses how using steroids changed their lives and the moral issues they had to wrestle with and rationalize.
We also talked about how misleading the health supplement industry can be and how important it is to research any supplement you think of taking. The movie has an excellent scene in which the director makes his own health supplement according to current federal laws (and that he could sell at GNC for $60 a bottle) that has almost no nutritional value or practical use. The movie also shows that its possible to make a set of “before and after” pics from a diet or supplement add in one day (like the picture below). I emphasized how important it is to carefully research any supplement or drug before you use it, and that the pictures you see on the covers of magazines are not always what they seem.