When we started off the 2019-2020 school year, I was somewhat prepared for the changes. We had changed as a team, our program was changing, and I was going to be teaching primarily middle schoolers for the first time. I was used to teaching ninth graders, so there were definitely some challenges, but I realized very quickly how right all the research was about primary prevention. It has to be happening at a younger age and in a way that they will understand. In a time where teens are experiencing things at such a different level than past generations, we have to start meeting them where they are, and realize how aware they are of the world around them. While I so missed spending lots of time with all the amazing high school teachers that I’ve worked with over the last six years, this year changed me more than any other.
While teaching at a middle school in Anderson County, I was working with a group of 8th grade girls. During our final lesson, we do an activity called, “If You Really Knew Me…”, which is done anonymously, as facilitators we read out the responses and we get all kinds of responses to this prompt during this lesson. This class though, had been so involved in our discussion during the other lessons, and had been very supportive of each other during the tougher talks we had through the first few lessons. But, I could have never prepared myself for their responses. So many of the girls wrote down such real and heavy things they were dealing with, from anxiety, to body image issues, to past relationship problems, struggles with friends, and even sexual assault.
By the time we finished reading through the answers, all of us were crying. It was definitely a first for me, I have learned to try and hold myself together to be there for the teens who come to us for help, but I couldn’t hold back. The beautiful thing about it was that all the girls instantly made a great plan of how to support each other, and identified people in their life who they could reach out to if they needed, they made a bond during that class that will always be. Every single student came by and hugged me before they left and if you work with teens, you may know how huge that is. For me, I was so teary because I had successfully made all the girls in that class feel safe and validated enough to share those responses with the class. That is now what I strive for in every classroom that I go into. I cannot wait to get to see the eighth graders from this year, next school year. While we’re not sure in what capacity that may be right now, I am so hopeful to still have those great connections with them.
— Anna Spatafora, Prevention Coordinator, Anderson County