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‘The best version of myself’

Annah Kate Lassiter is a junior in the UNC School of Education majoring in Human Development and Family Science (HDFS). After graduating in spring 2024, she plans to enter the School’s Master of Arts in Teaching program to become a licensed elementary school teacher. She loves spending time with children and is eager to begin a career that will help shape the hearts and minds of future generations. Lassiter took EDUC 390: “Sources of Strength” during the fall 2022 semester. Below, she reflects on the course and how she plans to incorporate its lessons into her future classroom.  

As a second-year student stepping into the “Sources of Strength” class last semester, I was excited to enroll in another class with Dr. Dorothy Espelage.  

Unknowingly, I had entered a classroom that would completely change my college experience and help to shape me into the young woman I am today.  

For those who know me, it is no secret my first year wasn’t an exciting and fun-filled year. Shortly after starting classes at UNC, I was homesick, challenged, and unencouraged. I was beginning to think that maybe UNC was not the right place for me — which was a real problem since everyone in my family bleeds Carolina Blue blood! 

Not wanting to disappoint those who had believed in me, supported me, and helped me to get where I was, I did as my mom would tell me to do when facing a challenge: I “sucked it up, buttercup,” and decided I was going to be successful here and find my happy place along the way.  

A meaningful Zoom meeting with an amazing, thought-provoking advisor led me to a change in major and finding my home in the School of Education. 

I enrolled in Dr. Espelage’s EDUC 405: “Parenting and Family Life Education” — an HDFS requirement. I had truly found my happy place at UNC — the School of Education. It makes a tremendous difference in your day-to-day when you are surrounded by people who have the same aspirations and passions that you have!

During the summer I received an email from Dr. Espelage regarding enrollment in her “Sources of Strength” course and immediately signed up. Since the first day of this course, I felt respected, valued, and encouraged by my fellow students, the professor, and teaching assistants. I can confidently say that these course instructors were intentional with getting to know Annah Kate as a person rather than just Annah Lassiter as a student.  

The ”Sources of Strength” course helped to provide me with life lessons and mental health strategies while building core principles for my future. Mental health can sometimes be an uncomfortable conversation. I will admit, entering this classroom was a little nerve wracking. Talking about my mental health with my peers was scary to me. This class allowed me to speak freely and unjudged. I could truly be the most authentic version of Annah Kate. 

One of my favorite parts of this course: At the beginning of each class, we would share a Rose, Bud, Thorn with our peers. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, Rose, Bud, Thorn is a self-reflective activity that forces honest and intentional conversation. Rose means you share something positive in your life, Bud means you share something you are optimistic or looking forward to, and Thorn is something that you are struggling with.  

Fostering this communication enabled me to grow closer with my peers, but, ultimately, I learned a lot about myself and have grown in ways I never imagined possible. 

The Sources of Strength wheel which is a huge learning aspect of the course features eight spokes. While learning about the mental health spoke, the importance of journaling was shared. 

I had never journaled or self-reflected on paper. Since October 19, 2022, I can confidently say that journaling has become a highlight of my day and has enabled me to grow as a person — and has greatly improved my mental health.  

The course also provided me with intentional friendships that truly prospered, drawing on the Sources of Strength wheel. Like me, my friends and fellow classmates found great benefits from the course.  

One of my fellow classmates shared: “The Sources of Strength Class at UNC was the first breath of relief I experienced arriving at UNC. The TAs Luz [Robinson] and Anne [Drescher] along with Dr. Espelage created such a welcoming environment, and I looked forward to the class as a safe space to be in! It also gave me such a great opportunity to meet people both within my year and years above me who I’m able to keep in contact with even now as the class has ended!”  

Another classmate shared: “Upon enrolling in the course, I had no idea how much I would learn about mental health and the remarkable improvements I would experience in my own mental health. During my freshman year here, I truly wish I would’ve known about this course as it would have helped me when I was struggling the most. As an aspiring counselor, I can use the content of this course to help my future clients improve and manage their mental health in the same way that it has improved mine. A large part of this course was group discussions which encouraged authentic and vulnerable conversations that I loved. I can confidently say that I enjoyed this course so much I was eager to attend each class and continue my journey of learning about mental health.” 

As a future educator who plans to work with elementary students, instilling the importance of mental health and positive perspectives from a young age is essential for our future generations. I plan to incorporate Rose, Bud, Thorn into my classroom and generate honest and vulnerable friendships through the use of the Sources of Strength wheel.  

While reflecting on my educational journey, I have seen the importance of building intentional relationships with students. I intend to build genuine, profound, and life-long relationships with my students as I know the intentional educators in my life have greatly influenced my experiences. I am forever grateful for the experiences this course provided me with as it has helped me to become the best version of myself. 

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By Annah Kate Lassiter