MIDDLETON - Students at Middleton Regional High School are learning that tough social issues some might have thought were confined to television dramas or hard life in big cities are right outside their doors.
Teacher Ria Dixon hopes if her kids learn about the effects of such things as hunger, poverty, and mental illness now, they might just help prevent them from happening in the future.
If Dixon’s Grade 12 Health and Human Services class is any indication, the empathy is already there. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do.
They sat in class Dec. 13 talking about a project they’re working on that involves many aspects but focuses on the food bank. In this case it’s the 12 Baskets Food Bank in Nictaux and they were planning to visit.
“We’re trying to get more information about volunteering and how the food bank actually operates,” said Grade 12 student Spencer Morris.
Students filled a basket with toothpaste, facecloths, toothbrushes, razors, soap, shampoo, and numerous other items that they were going to present to the food bank the next day.
“We understand there is food being donated to the food bank and that happens always throughout the year,” said Morris, “but there’s definitely toiletries that are lacking, feminine products, things that people need just to sustain themselves and keep their health up.”
Health & Human Services
Morris emphasized the class with Dixon is Health and Human Services.
“We explore different jobs in the health field and human service field, health being more physical health and human service being more mental health and different kinds of wellness that way,” Morris explained. “Also what ties into that is volunteering, because obviously without volunteers, a lot of the things with human services wouldn’t be happening. We find especially in rural areas there’s not a lot of support for people who slip through the cracks, are disadvantaged.”
He’s talking about people who don’t have the income to be able to take advantage of services, the money to get to the services, or sometimes the knowledge that the services exist.
“In this class we talk about the determinants of health, the 12 things that determine your quality of life,” Morris said. “The biggest one we talk about is income.”
“In Health and Human Services 12 I have been very inspired by the diverse group of students who are incredibly interested and engaged,” said Dixon. “I think that there wouldn’t be any one of them who wouldn’t say that they’ve had their eyes opened a little bit in this class by the topics that we cover.”
She recalled one day as being moving beyond all others. They were talking about homelessness and had watched a National Film Board documentary. The girl featured in the film had seen a man eating out of a dumpster and her mother explained homelessness to her.
“Kids in this class said ‘we know somebody locally who might do that,’” Dixon said. “I pulled an EA from the hallway and said ‘Do you know this lady? Is this somebody who is known around Middleton?’ She said ‘Yes, my daughter purchased a Subway gift card for her with her birthday money.’ The next morning the same educational assistant met me coming in the school, and two students from the class, to tell me that she had actually been found dead.”
It was a lesson from real life in their own community.
Dixon said she teaches a variety of students, from young moms with their own needs to some who may be familiar with food banks already.
“I think that inclusive education has created a real tolerance among students,” Dixon said, “so we see people with all sorts of different needs who roam our hallways. But I think that what we’re trying to do with this, and what I hope students will take away, is a sense of empathy towards people who are perhaps less fortunate -- deemed less fortunate – than they are or that they might view in that way. Or even better that they’ll send me a message a 10 o’clock at night saying ‘do you think that our class could bake cookies for a fundraiser that I’m involved in?’ Pay it forward somehow – because that happened last night and I was pretty impressed.”
In the end, she’s contributing something beyond the three Rs.
“The ultimate goal of education for me, and I believe for the Province of Nova Scotia, is that we’re creating good citizens,” she said. “They can be great at math, they can be great at chemistry, they can love English. They also need to be good citizens at the end of it.”
The basket the students were taking to the 12 Baskets Food Bank? They called it The 13th Basket and it was in memory of that woman who died.