CHOICES introduces new social-emotional education program in 29 schools

One day each week, freshmen at Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia use their physical education period to attend a new class focused on other elements of their wellbeing. Instead of building muscles and cardiovascular health, the class is designed to build resiliency and social-emotional wellbeing.

This fall, members of the CHOICES Prevention/Intervention Education team are leading classes around the county utilizing a new social-emotional development curriculum called WhyTry. The curriculum is being taught to middle and high school students in 29 schools throughout the county.

The WhyTry program is designed to teach social-emotional education to youth in a way they can understand and remember. Through the use of visual analogies or metaphors, the program teaches improved decision-making, dealing with peer pressure, impulse control, valuing hard work, having a future vision, and more.

At Mt. Whitney last week, the focus of the WhyTry lesson was on laws and rules. Isaac Miranda, a CHOICES Prevention/Intervention Education specialist, introduces the lesson with an illustration of a weightlifter. The lifter has a barbell resting on his shoulders. On one end of the barbell are four heavy plates. On the other is a balloon. Miranda points out the difference in the weightlifter’s body. On his right side, the lifter has significant muscle development; on his left side, his body is thin and underdeveloped.

The illustration is used to spark a conversation about the importance of laws and rules. Miranda uses himself as an example. Throughout middle and high school, he tells students that he was engaged at school and did well on tests, but wasn’t doing his homework. Year after year, counselors warned him about the danger of failing due to his poor homework grades.

Miranda asks the students to consider the weightlifter. “When I ignored the rules about homework, do you think I was doing the hard work or the easy?” Several students in class replied, “The easy.”

“The balloon represents the easy choice,” Miranda said. “It may be fun at first, but it doesn’t give us any real benefit. The weights represent the hard work. They may not be easy, but in the long run, they give us lasting benefits.”

Attitudes and actions of students in the 29 schools receiving the WhyTry curriculum will be measured by comparing results from surveys administered prior to and following the seven-week course. K.C. Pearce, CHOICES Prevention/Intervention Education manager, reports that the WhyTry curriculum is well-received by students. “Students are enjoying it because it’s fun, simple, and engaging,” Pearce said. “It reaches all students, including those who may have experienced trauma.”

At each presentation, the CHOICES team infuses the WhyTry lessons with curriculum from the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit, created by Stanford Medicine, as a tool to prevent middle and high school students from using tobacco and nicotine.

For more information about WhyTry or tobacco use prevention education, contact K.C. Pearce at [email protected].

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