I was fortunate as a high school student to have role models that encouraged me to think critically and ask questions. Mrs. Watson, my Senior English teacher and Sunday school teacher all through high school was one of those role models. She was, and I’m sure still is, an avid believer and practitioner of the “closed door:” the practice that if you want to share something really juicy or potentially controversial, you should close the door and make it clear that what you are about to say is worth hearing. Whenever she would do this, whether at church (which was more metaphorical “Don’t tell your parents at lunch what I’m about to say or they’ll fire me!”) or at school, I always felt like I was a member of a special club and was getting access to top secret information and knowledge that my parents didn’t know or for some mysterious reason would want to keep secret. In this way, Mrs. Watson was a great teacher. It mattered to her that we had ears to hear and vocal chords to ask questions. Being able to ask questions and actually get answers during middle school and high school proved to me that youth do have a voice and adults are interested in listening.
During my current nine to five life, my coworker Elena Miller-ter Kuile works with students and educators in local middle school and high school classrooms to facilitate service-learning. Elena and I co-coordinate Get Healthy SLV, a project of the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center that you have hopefully heard about. If not, Google us; we have a great website.
Like Mrs. Watson, Elena has two goals in the classroom: to give students a reason to care and to then help them express why and how they care. All through the month of April in ASU’s Community Partnership’s Gallery, artwork created by the students Elena has worked with through service-learning will be on display. All of the work addresses community health issues and what individuals can do to make it easier for their friends and family to get healthy and stay healthy.
For some of the students, this may be the first time that anything they’ve created will be shared publically. For them, we hope this is an eye-opening experience; that they will realize like I did that adults do care about their opinions and that by voicing their opinions, they can make a difference.
On this coming Monday night, the 15th, from 6-7:30 p.m. Elena and her service-learning team are hosting an art show reception at the Community Partnerships Gallery. This reception will give community members an opportunity to come together to see what the students have to say as well as give the students an opportunity to better explain their work.
I’m using this week as a shameless plug for the reception because projects like our service-learning work and educators like the teachers Elena has been fortunate to work with are the reason I believe that what I say has value. They are the reason I wanted to have a column in the newspaper three years ago. They are the reason I keep writing.
Join us at the reception on Monday night. Make it clear to our local youth that their opinions and ideas do matter. Make it clear to them that their involvement in improving the health of this community can make a difference. If any of this resonates as part of your story, make sure it’s a part of theirs.
Gena Akers can be contacted at