Welcoming wellness

Ella Waldman, News Editor

The Upper School guidance department is implementing several changes for the 2022-2023 school year to help support and accommodate the needs of more students.

Former high school guidance counselors Rachel Soifer and Melissa Gartner will serve as Co-Directors of the new Upper School Health and Wellness Center. In this position, they will be responsible for coordinating and overseeing health and wellness programming within the Upper School curriculum. 

“We hope to integrate health and wellness, education and experiential programming, in all different areas, so it feels natural and positive and connected to what [students are] already doing,” Soifer explained. 

Soifer said that she and Gartner have regularly visited the Ethical Dilemmas class during their unit on death and suicide to host a discussion about depression awareness and suicide prevention. The goal of the programming is to integrate more of these conversations to what students are studying, rather than interrupting the schedule, by pulling students out of class to discuss these important topics. 

Another goal of the Health and Wellness Center is to host in-depth grade meetings focusing on the five pillars of wellness: academic balance, physical well-being, mental, emotional and social well-being, digital well-being and ethics, service and leadership. During these retreats the health and wellness team will host workshops exploring each of these five pillars and how they connect with one another to support students’ wellness. 

The intent behind this broad programming is to expand the reach that the guidance department has on students. The guidance department has previously found it challenging to provide the necessary support for the small group of students that were truly going through crises, as well as hold essential proactive and supportive conversations with the wider Upper School population. 

Thus, Dean of Students Roslyn Landy explained that the new guidance approach will be to address mental health education as a pyramid. The bottom or widest tier of the pyramid will be focused on by the health and wellness center to provide support for everyone, not just those who have diagnosed mental health challenges. 

“As many of us are aware, there has been a sharp increase in incidents of mental illness and emotional dysregulation recently,” Landy said. “While some of this can be attributed to COVID, it is also, in part, a result of teenagers trying to do too much, striving to be perfect, striving to take the most advanced courses, striving to be straight A students while ignoring their mental health and wellness and taking time to thrive. Our goal is to educate the student body by addressing balance, nutrition, sleep and following your passion.”

The middle tier will consist of more individual work, and it will focus on students who have smaller challenges, whether that is a bad grade, an argument with a friend or something slightly more serious. In those situations, freshman and sophomores will be directed to new high school counselor Marnie Lang, and junior and seniors will be directed towards Landy who will serve as their guidance counselor. 

“The newest kids coming in, I’m going to be meeting in small groups within the first month and a half, hopefully, during community time, so that I can get to know everyone and see everyone within school,” Lang said. “I’ll be out and about, and whenever I can, and meeting with all the students individually if they feel like they need help with teachers, connecting with kids, if they need any help in, in or out of the classroom, and just working with the team to make sure that everyone is successful in school.”

Finally, the top tier, which is made up of a small group of students who are struggling with more serious issues, will be managed by a student review committee made up of several faculty members who will evaluate as a team how to help those individual students. 

Additionally, some of the logistical demands that Gartner and Soifer previously addressed, such as scheduling and add-drop forms, will be handled by other members of the faculty. Academic Dean Aileen Goldstein will handle the add-drop forms for the freshman and sophomores while the college counseling team will handle them for the junior and senior classes. 

Overall, the changes the guidance department are making are all to accommodate the complex and ever changing needs of students, and to ensure everyone is receiving the necessary support. 

“There is a very big difference from [what there] was 45 years ago, 25 years ago, and even five years ago,” Landy said. “The demands are greater, the rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed and we are focused on educating and supporting all of our students and not just a small percentage of our student body.”