New Initiatives Work Together Supporting Student Health and Wellness

As one of Head of School Will Moseley’s major school-wide strategic priorities for the 2018-2019 school year, St. Margaret’s has been implementing a host of coordinated initiatives to support the health and wellness of students. These new programs are already improving the quality of the educational experience for students and garnering high levels of student endorsement.

“When we assess our student programs, it is important to recognize and leverage the connections and overlaps intrinsic to the complexities of student health and wellness,” said Athletic Director Patrick Bendzick, who is leading health and wellness initiatives school-wide. “This year, as we are tackling student sleep, time management, substance abuse, healthy relationship with technology and nutrition, and we do so with the intentionality of how together they influence a young person’s health. Research proves all of these factors can contribute positively to or worsen a student’s health and wellness. Our efforts in these areas converge to optimize the healthiest, most productive learning environment so our students can be happy and well as they grow and learn.”

This year, St. Margaret’s has launched several health and wellness efforts that work in tandem, with the new school schedule as a foundation supporting everything that follows. 

St. Margaret’s All-School Counselors Janice Avalone and Jeremy Dailey expanded last month’s annual Red Ribbon Week to include conversations between students and outside health experts about mental health and how stress increases the risk of substance use in young people.

In November, St. Margaret’s welcomed The Social Institute, an organization out of Duke University that empowers students to navigate social media positively. St. Margaret’s partnered with The Social Institute to educate students on digital citizenship and healthy relationships with technology. The Social Institute spent two days at St. Margaret’s in workshops with Upper School and Middle School students as well as presenting to faculty, staff and parents.

“We are developing student programs that educate and model healthy living to encourage personal ownership and thoughtful choices to support their own health as they grow today and into adulthood. We are also bringing a parent education component to these efforts to nurture our important home-school partnership with our families,” Mr. Bendzick said. 

The 2018-2019 Parent Up Speakers Series kicked off its focus on health and wellness with renowned psychologist and researcher Jean Twenge last month. Dr. Twenge presented the compelling portrait of our children’s rising use of technology and its negative connection to their decline of happiness and steep rise in anxiety and depression rates. Dr. Twenge also showed one of the biggest sacrifices in the name of technology—sleep-deprived teens.

Next, the PTF welcomes Parent Up speaker Michael J. Breus on December 7 who will address the importance of sleep in the healthy development of young people. In January, independent school psychologist Michael Thompson will discuss today’s social and emotional pressures on children to achieve in school.

As a part of the new schedule, an Innovation Block launched for juniors and seniors this year dedicated to learning experiences that are relevant and develop important life skills helping them to engage in their learning over their time at St. Margaret’s. The hour-and-45-minute Innovation Block occurs nine times a year and provides rich opportunities for students to delve into topics and activities that are of interest to them outside the normal structure of class.

Additionally, St. Margaret’s is piloting student coursework focused on mindfulness and nutrition to further develop into the curriculum. In one Innovation Block mini-course on mindfulness, St. Margaret’s is partnering with UCI Environmental Health and Safety psychologist Jessica Drew de Paz who is guest teaching. Through the course, students are developing an understanding of mindfulness, learning its benefits and developing their own practices.

Upper School students were treated by school leaders to healthy advisory snacks for the month of October. The healthy snacks from Nekter and other vendors reinforce a Convocation dedicated to how nutritional choices affect a student’s cognitive function, growth and development, as well as athletic performance.

“These efforts reflect the significant feedback we received, in particular, from students and alumni as well as the Board of Trustees through the strategic planning process to prioritize the health and wellness of our students and to create a more meaningful, balanced and healthy learning environment in which our students can grow and thrive. In the end, meeting the health needs of our students and nurturing their interests does not lower academic standards, rather it optimizes their performance,” Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem said.
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California