Teenagers lead the class

3:45 pm

A lecture is probably not the most engaging way to teach healthy habits. How about a physical demonstration of how much sugar is in a variety of popular drinks like soda or energy drink?

Elementary students across Indiana are learning from fun lessons like this one — and the instructors are teenagers.

They’re part of the burgeoning Teens as Teachers program, open to freshmen through seniors. Participants learn to teach a subject and receive materials to conduct their own classes. Subjects have included biosecurity, biotechnology, computer coding, healthy living and leadership.

Teens are assigned an adult mentor, but are responsible for leading their classes. They teach in teams, so they learn to collaborate. They also help teach other teens to run their own courses. To date, more than 600 teenagers have participated in the program.

Elizabeth Tedder, now a senior in agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, was in the first cohort of teen teachers. She led a 10-week program in schools near her hometown of Hope, in Bartholomew County, that included modeling DNA using pipe cleaner models. “We also covered making things with soy — ice cream, ink, plastic and soap,” she says.

The experience guided her career choice. “It made me realize I like kids,” she says. “But I don’t think I could ever be a teacher.”

During her teacher training, Bernie Tao, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and food science, made a big impression as a guest speaker. “He talked about his research and I realized this is something I could see myself doing.”

And how did students like her class? “Oh my gosh,” she says. “They loved it so much they even wrote letters. ‘We love you and 4-H!’”

More than 600 teenagers have participated in Teens as Teachers. In 2019, grant funding will expand healthy habits training with 120 new teachers.