I made my 3rd visit to Canyon Springs during the last two Wednesdays. 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 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 – The Team Game
We spent the class talking about tobacco. Five students from each class performed a skit called “The Team Game” which stated numerous facts about the hazards of smoking and chewing tobacco. Highlights included:
- identifying chewing tobacco (spit and dip), cigarettes and cigars
- the long term and short term effects of chewing tobacco (tooth and gum problems, mouth cancer, addiction, etc)
- the long term and short term effects of smoking (emphysema, lung cancer, stained teeth and fingernails, smoke stench, addiction, etc).
- legal age and increased risk of smoking or chewing as a youth
I finished the lecture with a few visual aids of the effects of smoking on lungs. First, there is the bottle of tar that shows the amount of gunk that will pass through an every day smoker’s lungs over the course of a year.Then I have a board with plaster models of lungs before and after smoking depicting lung cancer and emphysema. I also have a display of preserved lung tissue showing a healthy lung along side an emphysematous lung of a 20 year smoker.
Needless to say, the kids were very clear by the end of class that tobacco products are legal to use for an adult, but are not a healthy choice in any way shape or form.
6th Grade – Caffeine and Stimulants
I started by explaining to the kids not think of drugs as good or bad. Drugs are just inanimate chemicals that affect our minds and bodies in a variety of ways. The good or bad comes from why a person chooses to use a drug. The laws and attitudes surrounding drugs are constantly changing, but every time a person uses a drug for any reason there is a risk involved. Especially for kids that are still growing and developing, the only time they should be using a drug is with the approval of their parents and/or under the care of a doctor. Any drug use outside of that is likely something they should not be doing.
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).