A Focus on Student Wellness
by Anne Weisel, Head of the Lower School
Hopes and dreams. A new school year is filled with them. Ten months of possibility that will be shaped by a blend of initiative, nurturing, and experiences. For students in every division, hopes and dreams represent who they want to be. Who they want to be as a student, as a friend, as an athlete or artist, and in their future. Hopes and dreams are lasting,and while they may sound slightly different in the time between Lower and Upper School, at their core they hold similar desires for achievement, improvement, and belonging for students of all ages. As educators, we are given a unique opportunity to shape and support the attainment of those hopes and dreams. A responsibility that stretches beyond the classroom, our support often focuses on a key element to success – wellness.
Student wellness can be loosely defined in both physical and emotional dimensions as pursuing and being in good health. An umbrella term that encompasses a child’s fitness, nutrition, frame of mind, safety, and community belonging, student wellness represents key influences that lead to academic success. A recognition of the important influence wellness has on academic success is a hallmark of independent school education, and St. Andrew’s has taken intentional steps to prioritize a coordinated and developmental approach to comprehensive student wellness programming. From the foundational level of our mission and strategic plan, to the service delivery model that includes advisement and school counseling, we value the relationship student wellness has to academic success and the direct relationship it plays in helping our students achieve their hopes and dreams.
Enhance our campus culture around critical components of diversity, equity, inclusivity, belonging, and emotional and physical wellness, to create a more kind, respectful, and supportive community for all stakeholders. SAS Strategic Plan 2020-2025
Specifically identifying our school as a “supportive educational community,” our St. Andrew’s School mission calls for student development beyond the classroom as we commit to foster an environment of integrity and social consciousness. Complemented by the school’s designation as an IB World School, the school’s mission and the IB Learner Profile create a foundation based on balance, knowledge of self, global inclusiveness, curiosity, and creativity. This foundation, when examined along with the call within our five year strategic plan to enhance our campus culture around the critical components of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), emotional, and physical wellness, demonstrates the core value St. Andrew’s has placed on developing the whole child both in and outside of the classroom. Illustrating a recognition that the kind of employee, citizen, colleague, and partner we become is directly and significantly influenced by the experiences we had in our formative years, our school works to build an intentional student wellness program from the holistic framework the mission and strategic plan provides us.
Who builds that program is as important as the foundation and framework it is built upon. Bringing together vision and experience from across the campus, our Student Wellness Team includes representation from all three Divisions. Staff working directly with students, often in a non-academic support role, come together quarterly and remain available as a resource throughout the year. Encompassing all aspects of student wellness, the team includes Deans of Students, School Counselors, the School Nurse and Learning Resource Coordinator, as well as administrative support. This group’s expertise ranges from certified crisis response to preventative programing, and their work is intended to serve as a resource and support to the school community in both times of need and as a proactive planning initiative.
Friends are a common and important part of a child’s hopes and dreams, providing the social framework we move into the world with. Our friendships and social interactions shape our communication skills, how we manage and regulate our emotions, our willingness to try new things, and the way we collaborate to problem solve and work on a project. These are important skills in Lower, Middle, and Upper School that lead to our eventual success in everything from civic engagement to employment, and they require practice throughout childhood. The student wellness programming at SAS creates that practice in each division to intentionally foster and guide interactions that help children develop the skills necessary to maintain positive social and working relationships.
This work begins with the anchor programs of Responsive Classroom (Lower & Middle Schools) and Making Caring Common (Upper School) that students in all three Divisions experience, providing a spiraled and vertically aligned approach to this growth. Comprehensive programing delivered through homeroom and advisement group meetings helps create an intentional classroom climate that builds confidence, trust, and empathy and extends throughout the school as students carry these experiences into their daily interactions. Core to both programs is the development of positive relationships with teachers and classmates, reinforced through games, guided conversations, classroom routines, and positive teacher language. The investment St. Andrew’s has made training our staff in these research-based, student-centered approaches at all levels allows for students to have an experience that recognizes them as people outside of their academic experiences and values the support they need in developing the communication, empathy, and collaboration skills that help make them truly excellent young men and women when they graduate.
An extension of this baseline programming, and a recognition that much of our wellness is influenced by experiences that happen “to us” throughout life, is the comprehensive School Counseling program St. Andrew’s is continuing to develop. Defined by the American School Counselor Association as comprehensive in scope, preventative in design, and developmental in nature, our School Counseling program has grown to two full time School Counselors who work with students through core classroom lessons, small group meetings, and individual sessions when a responsive intervention or support is needed to address those life experiences that happen “to us”.
In an informal survey of local School Counselors in settings both public and private, at all levels from elementary to high school, anxiety was consistently named as the single most significant challenge they support students with. Reflecting the national data that highlights this trend across the country, anxiety in our students stems from outside life experiences as well as school-related stress and impacts student wellness significantly. Comprehensive School Counseling sets schools up for success by ensuring that students have access to the support they need in a way that prioritizes the partnership between wellness and academic achievement.
As our students discussed their hopes and dreams at the start of this school year, one of the key wellness attributes that emerged consistently through their statements relating to friends and social interactions was belonging. Core to our school’s mission driven work to support diversity, St. Andrew’s has intentionally fostered an environment that is actively engaged in the promotion of belonging for all students. A learning experience designed to place a wide lens on a student’s world view, enrollment at St. Andrew’s ensures students will have experiences in and outside of the classroom that prepare them for the diversity of our global workplace. Making them leaders in creating the types of human connections with all people that create progressive innovation and progress, the relationships our students foster in our community grow in significant part from the foundation we have set with Student Wellness programming. Diversity Councils for faculty, parents, and students provide a space for community members to engage in this work, and all members of the campus community benefit from the feeling of belonging that sits at the core of our campus culture.
The Future of Student Wellness
Optimism. It characterizes the very sentiment behind all our hopes and dreams. It sits at the core of the work we do as educators, believing as we start each year that we can and will make an impact on the students we serve and therefore the future of our world. Optimism is important, it serves as the mindset necessary to engage in this work, but it is the action step that comes next that truly makes an impact on your children.
St. Andrew’s has taken that step, curating a staff of highly trained and committed professionals and investing in the professional development and program materials to provide our students with a Student Wellness experience that grows with them throughout their experience in each Division. Using the same adaptability that keeps our academic programs cutting edge, we have customized a Student Wellness program that prepares students for the ever changing circumstances we face. In partnership with families, we are proud of the integrity, gratitude, empathy, and cooperation that is present in our student body and remain committed to Student Wellness as a key component of learning that fosters these important attributes in each class.