Teach­ing teens healthy choices, liv­ing

Youth sym­po­sium held by Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

The women of the Eta Omi­cron Sigma chap­ter of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority wanted to give chil­dren around Charles County some­thing fun, but ed­u­ca­tional, to do last week­end and held a youth sym­po­sium on Satur­day.

The sym­po­sium em­pha- sized the “three H’s,” said Natalie Ben­net, the pro­gram’s co­or­di­na­tor and a mem­ber of the sorority.

“Our three H’s that we’re em­pha­siz­ing are healthy choices, healthy liv­ing and healthy gen­er­a­tions,” she said.

This was the 20th year the pro­gram was held, Ben­nett said, but this was the first time the group fo­cused on those three spe­cific as­pects at once. Mid­dle school and high school chil­dren from across the county were

in­vited to at­tend the event for free at the James E. Rich­mond Sci­ence Cen- ter at St. Charles High School.

There, chil­dren par­tic­i­pated in healthy liv­ing ses­sions that in­cluded a nutri­tion les­son and an ex­er­cise clinic. After the healthy liv­ing ses­sion, chil­dren were moved to rooms spec­i­fied by gen­der and ate lunch while talk­ing about mak­ing healthy choices, sex­u­al­ity and re­spect for other’s choices.

And fi­nally, the pro­gram fin­ished with a healthy gen­er­a­tions STEM les­son where stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in group ac­tiv­i­ties us­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and math to solve prob­lems in re­la­tion to a fic­tional CSI case.

Da­cia Robert­son, a mem­ber of the sorority who helped fa­cil­i­tate the pro­gram, said the group wanted to make sure that the cen­tral theme of the day was “It’s all about you.”

“What we hope young peo­ple get out of this is that ‘I need to make these de­ci­sions about how I want my life to be’ and to live pos­i­tively,” Robert­son said. “How can I choose healthy eat- ing habits so my body is right? We wanted to teach them about money, about school, about friend­ship. All of these pos­i­tive de- ci­sions to help them live their best life pos­si­ble.”

Robert­son said the work the sorority was do­ing was just an ex­ten­sion of what par­ents al­ready do, she said, but they wanted to bring in pos­i­tive ex- am­ples to show chil­dren what could be done when they live healthy and posi- tive life­styles.

Jean­nie Tran, a former track ath­lete turned coach and per­sonal trainer, was brought in to teach the chil­dren about healthy liv- ing and mak­ing de­ci­sions to em­pha­size healthy liv- ing and eat­ing.

Tran said she has found joy in talk­ing to and teach­ing chil­dren. It helps that she works with adults as a trainer, she said, who are nor­mally more re­cep­tive to her as “an ex­pert.” But chil- dren of­ten chal­lenge her, she said, which is a good thing be­cause when they see re­sults early it will help build bet­ter habits.

“I didn’t re­al­ize I ac­tu­ally like this. It’s in­ter­est­ing, it’s a bit more com­pli­cat- ed,” Tran said. “They’re at that grow­ing point where you can eat what­ever you want, but it won’t al­ways be that way.”

It’s best to start build­ing habits now, Tran said, so that as an adult they will not have to worry about com­pletely re­vamp­ing their mind­set. It’s her goal, she said, to pre­pare them for that.

Chad Eric Smith, an ac­tor and so­cial ac­tivist who works with the so­cial group Men Can Stop Rape, said he of­ten goes around and talks to chil- dren in Wash­ing­ton, D.C, about re­spect for wom- en and re­spect for their peers. He was in­vited to do that with the young men at­tend­ing the sym­po­sium Satur­day.

The goal, he said, is to teach chil­dren to use their emo­tions and their anger as “pos­i­tive in­flu­ences” for bet­ter de­ci­sions in the fu­ture. Their con­versa- tion was only 30 min­utes, he said, so it was dif­fi­cult to get into de­tail. “But I think we got some points across,” he said.

“We want to use our emo­tions in a pos­i­tive way and be pos­i­tive peo­ple,” he said. “We want to talk about con­sent, break down art and re­ally try to un­der­stand and em­brace each other’s sto­ries.”

Tyriek Shaw, 16, the son of the chap­ter pres­i­dent Tonya Allen-Shaw, said he has par­tic­i­pated in the pro­gram for years and has al­ways en­joyed it. But this year, be­cause of the STEM com­po­nent of the pro­gram in the af­ter­noon, he said he was ex­cited for this year in par­tic­u­lar.

“I’ve al­ways been re­ally good at math. Sci­ence in­ter­ests me. I love work­ing with my hands; the world is ad­vanc­ing. Tech­nol­ogy is one of those good fields. I’m ex­cited to work with it to­day,” he said.

Shaw, who wants to pur­sue video game de­sign as his ca­reer, said the sym­po­sium is teach­ing chil­dren “not to stray to the wrong path,” and make the best de­ci­sions for them go­ing for­ward into the fu­ture.

Over­all, he said, the pro­gram is a great thing for chil­dren who are just look­ing for some­thing to do on a bor­ing Satur­day af­ter­noon. It gets them around their peers they do not know, he said, and helps foster more so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

And, best of all, he said, it gives them a glimpse of what could be in the fu­ture.

“Noth­ing is go­ing to de­ter me from my goals. I’m go­ing to be the best I can be,” Shaw said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Above, Health coach Jean­nie Tran teaches chil­dren at the youth sym­po­sium about healthy liv­ing on Satur­day af­ter­noon while they munch on cin­na­mon-ste­via pop­corn as their healthy snack of the day. Be­low, Chad Eric Smith talks to the young men of the youth sym­po­sium about life choices, re­spect, con­sent and other things on Satur­day af­ter­noon in a cir­cle be­fore the group eats lunch.

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