Wellness in Middle School

Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School, writes about the importance of teaching wellness to students.

Last week, sixth graders returned home to report that they did yoga in English class. Imagine the confusion as their parents tried hard to connect downward facing dog to the latest sixth grade novel. In fact, there was a very compelling reason for the excellent yoga instruction (provided by parent Amy Harberg): the Middle School Wellness curriculum.

In grades 5-8, social and emotional growth proceeds along with intellectual and brain development. Research tells us that parents and educators must teach and reinforce social and emotional skills in order to ensure appropriate and healthy physical, mental, and social growth throughout the teen years. Much of the adolescent behavior that drives adults crazy can be mitigated through intentionally addressing strategies, setting boundaries, and empowering young people to respond to the challenges they face each day. Our goal in the Middle School is that our students will develop habits that will lead to a lifetime of smart choices and overall wellness in all areas of life. To meet these learning objectives, five times during the year and rotating through each of the academic desciplines, each grade participates in Wellness classes designed by Middle School Counselor Ginna Johnson.

So that takes us back to yoga. One of the five Middle School Wellness topics is “Locus of Control,” developing personal physical and emotional awareness. Yoga, through deep breathing and relaxation, can calm overly emotional reactions by slowing things down and allowing the brain to refocus. Taking care from the inside out strengthens the belief that we are actually in charge of our own actions and responses, a powerful concept for early teens.

Additional Wellness topics include Healthy Relationships, Physical Wellness and Nutrition, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs, and Problem Solving – both individual and in a group. A number of outside experts join Ms. Johnson in presenting to grade level sessions throughout the year. These concepts are reinforced through Character Education activities as well.

We are charged to help young people navigate early adolescence, and we take that charge seriously. Just as we talk about students becoming self-advocates for their own academic needs, we also want to help them develop the sense that they can manage social challenges, societal demands, and constant change. Including Wellness as a critical component of the Middle School program demonstrates our commitment to the whole child and to our hopes for a healthy, meaningful adulthood.