A Healthy Habits Homecoming: A Student Returns as Teacher
Feb 02, 2022 Carrie St. Michel
Anahi Luna is something of a superstar among second graders at Marvin Avenue Elementary School in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles. On a recent Wednesday, Anahi's fan club made its presence known.
"I had just arrived on campus and ran into my Monday students, who were lined up to get tested for COVID-19. They started clapping and chanting, 'Ms. Luna, Ms. Luna, Ms. Luna,' and they wanted to know if I was on my way to their class," Anahi recalls. She had to gently remind them that it was Wednesday, and that's when she teaches another class of second graders.
These pint-size chanters know they love learning from Ms. Luna about the importance of eating nutritious food and exercising regularly. What they don't know is that their 23-year-old Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits graduate student intern was once—like them—a second grader at the very same Marvin Avenue Elementary School.
In fact, Anahi was born in Mid-City, raised within walking distance of the school and still lives in the neighborhood. She attended Marvin Avenue Elementary from kindergarten through fifth grade, graduating in 2009.
"Healthy Habits is the reason we own a nutribullet. My brother, Diego, brought home a Healthy Habits smoothie recipe and convinced my mom to buy one."
A full-circle journey
In June of this year, Anahi will graduate with a Master of Science degree in healthcare administration from Mount Saint Mary's University in L.A. In order to achieve this academic milestone, Anahi needed to complete an internship. That’s when Healthy Habits popped into her head.
"Healthy Habits is the reason we own a nutribullet," notes Anahi, referring to the popular smoothie blender. "My brother, Diego, brought home a Healthy Habits smoothie recipe and convinced my mom to buy one."
The program was part of the curriculum in Diego's second-, third- and fourth-grade classes at Marvin Avenue Elementary. Now a sophomore in high school, Diego still makes that same smoothie as well as another favorite snack he discovered through Healthy Habits: a whole-wheat tortilla with peanut butter and bananas.
Launched in 2004, Healthy Habits is one of Cedars-Sinai's community programs that's offered at more than 20 elementary schools in underserved L.A. communities. The program is an obesity-prevention initiative that reaches children early in life through a 10-week, interactive curriculum that focuses on wellness building blocks such as learning how to read food labels and exercising regularly. Healthy Habits also guides parents and teachers to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
Anahi remembers that her mother, Norma, participated in several summer sessions of Healthy Habits exercise in the park, a free eight-week program offered under the Healthy Habits umbrella. Held at parks in the West Adams district of L.A., the one-hour workouts combine Zumba, aerobics, strength training and stretching.
Anahi was thrilled when she discovered Healthy Habits was accepting internship applications.
"Growing up, our family went to low-income medical clinics. I remember seeing people who were very sick. As I became older, I had a strong sense that I needed to help my community, particularly in relation to their health," Anahi explains. "Healthy Habits' focus on disease prevention—specifically obesity prevention— and early interventions really resonates with me."
Soaring from the start
For the first few months of 2021, Anahi co-taught with Adriana Avila, her mentor and a Healthy Habits community health associate II. When the new school year started in September, not only was Anahi ready to go solo, but she soared from the start.
"Anahi quickly became an essential team player by taking on a load of 10 classes, which is more than any of our student interns had taken on previously," notes Adriana. "It has been great to observe Anahi learn and grow as a student intern and health educator."
In addition to Marvin Avenue Elementary, Anahi teaches at two other schools: Crescent Heights Boulevard Elementary School and Shenandoah Street Elementary School. Teachers at all three praise Anahi for her patience, upbeat attitude and ability to explain concepts in a manner that's both engaging and easy to understand.
Prior to Thanksgiving last year, Anahi received a booklet of thanks from second graders at Shenandoah Street Elementary School. The following note from Emma Marie Franco reflects the feelings expressed by many of Anahi's students: "I really appreciate all the knowledge you taught us. I learned to read food labels and new food recipes. You also taught us about food from different cultures. I had so much fun learning Healthy Habits with you this year. You are the best Healthy Habits teacher ever!"
Anahi will soon start teaching third graders. At Marvin Avenue Elementary, that will be another full-circle moment for her. "One of the classes will be with the teacher I had in second grade. She teaches third grade now and is excited I'll be teaching her class," says Anahi.
A full-circle answer
"The students' eagerness to learn is what drives my day," Anahi observes. "They know I start class with physical activity, so they'll ask, 'Are we doing yoga or cardio?' As a health advocate, you want your population to be engaged, so it's very fulfilling to see how eager they are."
The name Anahi is rooted in Hebrew and means "one who answers."
"I didn't know I would like teaching as much as I do. I like disease prevention, and I like the kids," notes Anahi. She adds, "I grew up going to a low-income elementary school. Now I'm teaching Healthy Habits at that same school and helping my community."
Anahi truly is one who answers.