Helping Teens Stay Healthy

Terry Copeland has learned a lot of things during the nearly 40 years she’s taught health and fitness to high school students. One of them is this: Despite all the different ways they have to connect with others, too many teenagers feel alone as they struggle with stress and depression.

She also has learned that Living Compass is a valuable tool to help students identify and manage the pressure of daily life.

“The health classes I teach are all about coping with your stressors, learning who you are and advocating for yourself,” said Copeland, who teaches at Whitefish Bay High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. “I found the Living Compass program was a good supplement.”

“The curriculum is excellent, it is really well done, and it’s user friendly,” said Copeland, who has taught the Living Compass program for teenagers for four semesters. “Succinct is really the word. There is so much reading on the topic, and they’ve just succinctly brought it all together.”

The Living Compass Wellness Notebook for Teens, appropriate for students in the 8th grade and above, is a spiral-bound, 100-page notebook. In it, teens can assess their own wellness in eight, interconnected areas—Handling Emotions, Relationships, Care of the Body, Stress Resiliency, Rest and Play, Spirituality, Organization, and School and Work. They then learn what they can do in each area to create more wellness in their lives. They can decide what changes they would like to make to become more healthy, answer reflective questions, and use the notebook as a personal journal. It is meant to promote self-awareness, to help teens realize that the choices they make each day are the building blocks of their adult life, and to empower them to make informed decisions that are in their long-term best interest.

“Journaling and writing it down, even if you aren’t answering honestly, is so important,” Copeland said. “At least you’re reflecting on it. People are more likely to text for help than cry for help. So the journaling really helps.

“You want them to like it and it not be a burden,” she continued. “They’ve got to own it. We told them to keep the notebook and use it in college, use it when you’ve slopping through some mud. Some really enjoy it and are more deliberate; others rush through it. It certainly complements what we are teaching. It is just one more great tool to help you catch the kids who are really reaching out and need some help.”

“Intuitively I think everybody gets something out of it,” Copeland said of her students. “It’s just that some people are more willing to express what they’ve got out of it. I know that it is helping the boys to get in touch with their feelings.”

This year, the Living Compass materials used in Copeland’s classes were funded by the Charles E. Kubly Foundation, a Wisconsin charity devoted to improving the lives of those affected by depression. To watch a foundation video about the Living Compass program at Whitefish Bay High School, visit YouTube.

Do the students of today seem more stressed or depressed that in past decades?

“I have two schools of thought on that,” Copeland said. “I believe that depression and side feelings of suicide have always been around. I think more people are talking about it now and actually seeking help. I do think—now this is just a perspective of an old person—being able to compare yourself to others on Facebook and other social media can diminish your own self-acceptance, making you think ‘I’m not having as much fun as they are,’ or ‘I don’t have what they have.’ We’re fighting that.”

Copeland has taught in the Whitefish Bay School District since 1986 and in the neighboring Nicolet School District prior to that. She teaches health, lifeguarding, and water safety instruction. She received her bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, where she majored in health and physical education and minored in adaptive/specially designed education. She holds a master’s degree in education and curriculum from National Louis University in Chicago.

Copeland uses a variety of programs to help students combat stress, including yoga classes and 30-minute, experiential de-stress sessions once or twice a month during lunchtime.

“We’re one of the only schools I know that offers everyday yoga classes taught by a Registered Yoga Teacher, and I teach three yoga classes,” Copeland said. “Our school is very rigorous academically. It speaks well of our school that we can have high academic standards and also honor the whole child by validating these wellness programs like yoga and Living Compass.”

At the end of this school year, Copeland will retire from teaching and move to Vail, Colorado, to be near daughters and grandchildren, “but I will not give up wellness!” she said.

“Living Compass booklets will definitely be in my arsenal!”