For teacher Shay Garcia, her Purpose -- the reason she wakes up in the morning -- is her students.
Shay Garcia didn’t start out to be a high school health teacher. “I majored in elementary education,” she said. “I thought ‘I love little kids and everything will be great!’ Then I found out during student teaching that I do like little kids, but I was a little overwhelmed by teaching at an elementary school.” Garcia, who was recently named the Blue Zones Project Teacher Chair for Health & Physical Education in FWISD, is now in her seventh year of teaching high school health and coaching volleyball, and she’s definitely found her Purpose and her passion. Purpose is one of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles, nine healthy lifestyle habits that can lead to a longer, healthier life.
She calls the mandatory health class “Life class.” “You can never be sitting in my class and think ‘when am I ever going to use this’,” she said. “Everything we talk about they have gone or will go through in their lives.” The health curriculum is broken into units which include emotional and mental health; violence and injury prevention; drug prevention; abstinence, personal, and sexual health; HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention; and nutrition and physical activity. Garcia says she is comfortable with all of the subject matter. Occasionally kids have questions that they feel they can’t ask their parents. When she runs out of answers, Garcia has good relationships with her school nurse and the intervention specialists who can talk to students and take them a step further with referrals.
A soccer player in college, Garcia had coached summer athletic camps and youth sports for years. “Everything I ever did lead me to this job,” she said. Garcia also sponsors Trimble Tech High School's Gay Straight Alliance, encouraging her students to find their Right Tribe –– another Power 9 principle that encourages connections and supportive commitment, which is crucial for teenagers. “Creating safe and supportive environments is the goal of health class,” she said. The club started in 2019 as what Garcia calls “Safe Space lunches – sort of ‘here if you need me’ time.” The student-founded organization was approved as an official club, and Garcia, who spends much of her time in class talking about inclusion, signed on as sponsor.
Garcia encourages her students to Move Naturally, a Power 9 principle which focuses on adding extra movement to your day, and she hopes to encourage exercise as a lifelong health habit. When asked what concerns her most for students, Garcia doesn’t hesitate. “Mental and emotional health is always the hardest unit,” she said. She sees that social media is causing anxiety and self-confidence/self-esteem issues in her students. “Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and nutrition are also huge, but mental health gets thrown under the rug,” she said.
“I love what I teach,” Garcia said. “It’s frustrating when I say ‘I teach health’ and people think that’s a class that’s easy or overlooked.” One of her jobs is creating big picture thinking for kids. “What happens if you don’t eat well or choose not to exercise – what does that look like for you?” she asks. Garcia believes that health teachers have an immediate, positive, and potentially long-lasting impact on kids’ lives. “I wish people knew how important it is to take health during high school,” she said. “It’s where a lot of the crucial conversations about life choices happen."