This is an archived article.  Although much of the information contained within this article will likely still be relevant and helpful, there may be some content that is outdated or written by a former employee of Center for Change.

Author: Elayne McArthur

Did you know that by playing an electronic game you could learn about life? One of the hottest holiday items this year is the Tamagotchi electronic pet. If you haven’t heard of a Tamagotchi, it is simply a hand held, LCD screen with attitude. It has real life demands such as needing to be fed, cleaned up after, played with, rested and to be socially connected to other Tamagotchi pets. In essence it is a pet without fur and requires batteries (not included). Why are these toys in such high demand? The answer is simple; in our high tech busy world we often need to feel valued and connected to something. We love our pets because they provide us with companionship and something to care about. The owners of Tamagotchi are responsible to provide all essential needs to sustain life. If their pet does not get fed, played with or properly rested, it will shut down to the dismay of the owner.

The students who are adolescent patients at Center for Change and who are part of Cascade Mountain High School, have many resources to ensure their needs are taken care of and not forgotten. We want to make sure that all of their educational needs are fulfilled individually. Like the Tamagotchi, these girls will be able to enhance their own personal academic and social achievement by sharing with others in and out of eating disorder treatment. The electronic Tamagotchi pet needs to be played with in order to thrive. If the toy is not played with enough, it will self destruct. In our lives we need to have play and social interaction. These are key components to excelled learning and a healthy lifestyle. Just like the Tamagotchi toy needs to be played with in order to maintain a high quality of life, our students need to learn to personally express themselves appropriately to others. When the health of the Tamagotchi begins to deteriorate, the owners immediately recognize the need for play and begin interacting with their pet so it may regain its strength. Some girls with eating disorders have forgotten their unique passions in life. I have often questioned girls about their interests only to discover blank stares and “I don’t know” as their answers. It is our passions that make us who we are and give us our drive to live to the fullest. Cascade Mountain High School allows students to take a step outside of traditional studies by providing a variety of theme based activities in all areas of study, making real life connections, and allowing them to rediscover who they are as unique individuals.

Knowledge is vital to ones own progression. Without continually learning we become stagnant. The makers of Tamagotchi understood this and allow the pet owners to discover this truth by themselves because the health of the pet declines if it doesn’t learn new tricks. The faculty of Cascade Mountain High School care deeply about the academic needs of our students. CMHS provides educational experiences through an integrated curriculum. Our curriculum provides students with learning experiences that are important and applicable to student interests and lives. The curriculum is also applicable to adult patients at Center for Change. Teachers expect students to understand connections between different subjects and how they relate to the real world. In other words, students will be able to answer the age old question of “Why am I doing this?” Based upon the subjects they have studied in class, students will be able to make connections to their own lives both academically and personally.

One of Tamagotchi’s most popular features is that it can be connected to other Tamagotchis by using the Internet. This allows owners of Tamagotchi to make new friends by playing games and swapping training tools with other Tamagotchi pet owners. Even electronic pets need social experience to help them grow and develop. This social connection is often lost to girls and women with eating disorders. Many of our students are focused on only getting good grades at all costs. They lose the ability to make connections with other people and isolate themselves from the world. Unfortunately, their only “real” friends are their eating disorders. One of our goals at Cascade Mountain High School is to provide adolescent patients with a nurturing and safe social environment that allows them to reconnect to others. Our integrated curriculum includes many group projects that incorporate interactive social skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity and leadership. The benefits of working together are many. Our students learn how to give and receive productive feedback for progression. They take ownership of their learning by expressing opinions, resolving conflicts head on, and learning how to be flexible. Students will be better prepared for the transition home because they will have learned needed social skills to prevent themselves from slipping back into isolated situations and feeling unwanted. This term we have been learning about different patterns that exist both in each subject area while at the same time making connections with their own lives. Making a quilt required their own creativity while depicting a scene or picture demonstrating patterns in all the core subjects. While making a quilt they had to face their fear of failure, perfectionism, negative thoughts, and needed to learn patience and most importantly they learned how to share and express their ideas with others while turning their academic learning into real life situations.

Although there are many similarities between the Tamagotchi toy and Cascade Mountain High School there is one significant difference. The Tamagotchi is a toy and can easily be recharged with new batteries if one of the key pieces to sustaining life is missing. If our students are not taught to value each unique life sustaining factor their batteries will become weak and their quality of life will diminish. Cascade Mountain High School recognizes the importance of maintaining a balance between all the essential elements of life such as socialization, education, play, life skills, therapy and nutrition to make sure that our students stay connected and can stand on their own. If our students learn to balance these key principles they will be able to embark on creating their own life experiences and live their own dreams. They will no longer be like the Tamagotchi dependent upon someone to charge their batteries. Instead they will begin charging their own batteries, making them able to sustain themselves by recognizing their own unique needs and abilities.