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Strengthening self-image

Part two in a series on innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Each year, students in the Faculty of Education’s FOCI 291 course are tasked with designing community development projects aimed at providing support to students at-risk due to challenges outside of the classroom – such as physical or mental illness or family circumstances. For Jessica Longchamps (Ed’16), this project created an opportunity to address the issue of body image and self-esteem in students and young adults.

Jessica Longchamps (Ed’16), created a workshop to address the issue of body image and self-esteem in students and young adults as part of her Teaching At-risk Adolescents and Young Adults program focus course. (Supplied Photo)

“Body image is something I identify as being much like mental wellness – everyone has a body image, whether it is positive or negative depends on the person and their own experiences,” says Ms. Longchamps. “A lot of people think of body image as only being something we’re concerned about at a young age but it is something that affects us at any age.”

As part of this course, teacher candidates are tasked with developing programs to improve their students' success academically, behaviourally and socially by providing life skills training, extra-curricular activities or by filling gaps in existing school programs. The course comprises one half of the Faculty of Education’s At-Risk Adolescents and Young Adults concentration – one of a number of concentrations in the Bachelor of Education program which allows interested candidates the opportunity to specialize in a particular aspect of teaching.

For her project, Ms. Longchamps designed a workshop for teachers, fellow candidates and members of the public to learn more about how to recognize signs that a student may be facing body image, eating disorders or self-esteem challenges, as well as means to offer support and connect them with specialists. In addition, she developed a program which connects students who are at-risk of developing eating disorders or have self-esteem or body image issues with a local support group in her hometown of Ottawa.

Ms. Longchamps says the motivation behind the project was to assist those who struggle with self-image challenges. The general lack of information about body image disorders, as well as the lingering public perception that self-esteem and positive self-image are a “choice,” further motivated her to do more to educate the public.

“I’ve noticed, in my peers and family, that when people don’t take the time to address their body image concerns that they had from their adolescent years, it translates up with them,” explains Ms. Longchamps. “I think that, collectively, we are each other’s best weapons in terms of supporting one another and building each other up.”

A second workshop is planned for this summer in Kingston. Ms. Longchamps is open to the idea of continuing to expand the workshop series to a wider audience, should demand exist, but says the lessons she has learned from designing the program will stay with her into her own classroom.

“Obviously, it’s important to teach curriculum,” says Ms. Longchamps. “However, if our students are struggling with mental or physical wellness, then they’re not able to learn to the best of their abilities.”