Editor's Note: This school year, The Times embarks on a project, the first of its kind in Northwest Indiana, to follow Calumet and Hammond high schools, both of which are on academic probation. Each Monday, The Times will publish an account.
HAMMOND | Everyone knows you always feel better after a good laugh.
A group of Hammond High School students, some of whom are under pressure to make better grades, pass tests, get into a good college or just relieve stress, had an opportunity to do that when psychology teacher Anita Cox brought in laughter therapist Tanaz Bamboat, of Munster.
Bamboat explained how laughter therapy is necessary when people lose the ability to laugh at the simplest issues. Bamboat teaches laughter yoga therapy as a way to reduce stress and promote good health. As she had students stand up and clap, walk around tables in the cafeteria and shake hands, she said laughter also improves circulation, relieves pain and boosts self-confidence.
"Find that joy from within you," she told students. "Material things don't give you joy."
Bamboat, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, found that when she went to a laughter class, it became contagious. "Between childhood and adulthood, we lose the ability to laugh as much. You can laugh your way to better health," she said.
Cox brought the program to her class last week as a result of a $150 grant she won through the Hammond Education Foundation.
She said she wanted to introduce students to an alternative method for reducing stress and psychological disorders such as depression.
With the high school on probation and facing state takeover, Cox said it's been a difficult year but also promising.
"I've never worked harder in my life," she said. "Not only is there more expected of students, but there is also more expected of teachers. We have the extended day for students, tutoring and so many things that we are offering to get the school on track."
Anatomy and physiology teacher Theresa Knipe's 30 students joined the class. She thought it was a good program for students, because so many of them deal with more than just the work required at school.
"Our students are very aware of the school's situation and the pressure on teachers. Teachers are trying to do so many different things to help improve our scores, and we're using many different techniques to help our students," she said.
"If they learn these techniques to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, this will help them throughout their lives. It's good to see them trying these activities. They are learning, and they don't even realize it," Knipe said with a smile.
Seniors Amelia Medina, 18, and Josh Tobar, 17, said they enjoyed the laughter yoga therapy class.
Tobar said he intends to spread the message of "laughter therapy" to friends who did not participate in the class. He said there are things teenagers go through and don't want to talk about or deal with it, but laughter therapy can help.
Medina said she intends to pursue a degree in physical therapy, and she can see how things like laughter and music therapy can benefit people.
"This has been a rough year for everyone," she said of teachers and students.
"I've gotten more out of this year than I have during my last three years. The teachers are working hard. Our principal is amazing. My mother and the principal were in school together. It's important that parents participate in their child's life. We've had more teacher involvement in our lives than ever before."