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Health and Wellness in Lower School

Leigh Serra, M.D. teaches PreK-5th Grade students in Health and Wellness classes and serves as a Diversity and Community Life Coordinator for Lower School. Dr. Serra received her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She did her residency in pediatrics at Columbia University where she also worked in the pediatric bone marrow transplant unit.  She spent twelve years as a practicing pediatrician in NYC.  Today we sat down with Dr. Serra to learn more about her work with students at GA.

Why do you choose to work in a school setting?

I’ve learned that teaching health and wellness is not that intrinsically different than pediatrics. A lot of what I’m talking to the kids about is preventative medicine – healthy eating, getting enough sleep, how your body works, limiting screen time. These all focus on how to maximize your health. That is what I’m teaching the kids. 

What does a typical day look like for you at GA?

My work is really varied. Aside from PE and Library, I think I’m the only specialist that sees every kid in the whole school during the 7-day rotation. I get to teach every class. Sometimes my day is talking about food and eating with PreK; using the oven to warm up chicken and teaching about protein. Sometimes it’s discussing world religions with 2nd grade, and sometimes it’s talking with 5th graders about how babies develop. Every day is different. Because of my role in diversity work at GA, I’m regularly attending meetings about Lower School diversity issues and meeting with other divisions to ensure we build alignment across the curriculum.

Can you share a bit about the diversity work that you do with students?

Diversity work is also a part of wellness. If you don’t feel good about who you are, if you don’t feel valued, celebrated and safe, then you can’t be your healthiest self. That’s where the identity work I do with kids comes in. The physical part provides the best foundation possible upon which all the academic and social-emotional pieces can be built.   

What are you working on right now that is exciting to you?

With my class schedule, I don’t have the time to take students on a field experience so I have been thinking about ways to make the material more dynamic using technology. This semester, I began using virtual reality to help 3rd graders explore the human body systems. It’s really brought this study to life and I’m excited to explore this further with other topics of study.

You get lots of children to eat their vegetables.  Any tips for families?

You have to take a global approach to eating and not worry about every meal.  If you flipped your child upside down at the end of the week, would some fruits and vegetables come out?  If the answer is yes, that’s a great start.  You can’t make someone eat something they don’t want to eat and I don’t recommend getting into arguments about food with your child. My best tip is to give them vegetables first at a meal. It is when they’re most hungry and if the only thing available is veggies, they are more likely to eat them. Lastly, I encourage parents to be good role models.  Show your children that you enjoy healthy foods and they may be more interested in trying them.