Lead Features Editor John Towfighi

When passing by the Waverley Place entrance, one of the most prominent sights is the school’s dedication to foster “the intellect and character of each student,” as explained in the mission statement painted on the white wall. While academic success serves as the main focus for the High School, building a supportive, interactive environment is essential to the holistic growth of every individual. “Take Care,” the theme for the 2018-19 school year has been put in place to enhance this environment.

Implemented by the Wellness Committee, which consists of faculty and staff across all divisions, the theme arose after observation of high stress levels in the school and the world in general. Counselor Stephanie Oliver, a member of the committee, was a part of the initiative to develop the theme. “[We began by thinking] about what a K-12 curriculum would like with regards to health and well-being. We talked about what are all aspects of health and what that can look like, and we broke it down into categories and went from there,” she said.

The categories consist of six parts: body, mind, intellect, engagement, relationships and purpose. Each section serves as a way for members of the community to focus on a particular aspect of well-being that is oftentimes ignored or forgotten during the school year. “With the way we treat ourselves in the teenage years, we think if we just beat ourselves up and push ourselves to work harder we’ll just do better, but it’s the opposite,” Oliver said. “If we’re nice to ourselves and we feel good, we genuinely want to do good.”

Helping students feel prepared for work is always a goal for the faculty and staff, yet in the broader scheme of things, the aim is to help students feel “fully able to handle the challenges of the world,” Head of School Robin Appleby explained.

A part of this focus on being able to handle challenges in life starts with personal behavior, like making decisions with drugs, sexual relations and “all sorts of things kids experiment with growing up,” Appleby said.  

She believes that if students think about taking care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, choices that aren’t necessarily healthy will be easier to avoid. “It doesn’t mean those choices are going to become automatically easier, but at least it’s a framework through which to think about them,” she said.

Moreover, Appleby hopes that this year’s theme will give students a foundation on which to pay more attention to their growth, and create a balance in regards to school work and personal health. “[Students] need to attend as much to their personal growth and their physical, mental, emotional wellbeing as to their academic growth,” she said.

Both Appleby and Principal Devan Ganeshananthan hope that the versatility of the theme makes it easier for students to apply it to their own lives. Ganeshananthan believes that “what makes [the theme] appealing is that it has a pretty significant number of entry points,” essentially offering a range of ways for students to begin applying the six categories to their life. “A lot of health and wellness and holistic care has to be self-guided and self-paced,” he said.

Through his experience of working with young people as both a high school principal and a father, Ganeshanathan has noticed that “you really can’t educate people unless they are taking care of themselves.” He hopes that students take advantage of this schoolwide focus on health to find “their own way of connecting to the theme.”

Looking forward, Appleby plans to facilitate more school focus on National Mental Health Day on October 10. She is currently working on ways that the school can implement activities and discussions to bring issues related to the subject of mental health to light.

In terms of tangible curriculum adjustments, the PE department constantly changes course to create a more well-rounded class that address a variety of key health points. Covering not only the sports at hand but the implications for each person that come with those activities, PE Teacher Grant Hiller explained that they are “shifting the emphasis in PE to a more holistic approach that encompasses physical, mental and social well-being, and along with that a de-emphasis of the more traditional, all out sports approach.”

Hiller believes that athletics, specifically in PE class, are also an outlet for students to comprehend dynamics of teamwork and the Take Care category of relationships. Alongside that, exercising and holding students to healthy physical standards falls under improving the categories of body and mind. “We are trying to promote a variety of activities that develop our students’ interest across the board in terms of being active,” he said.

Offering points of improvement for students and classes, it is also important for teachers to model how the theme can be effective. Appleby has used the theme as a reminder to get back to a regular exercise schedule and get more sleep each night. Basic adjustments to her daily routine have enabled her to bring her best self to school each day. “You can change the whole tone and tenor of your day by taking simple steps that will then allow you to take the more complicated steps,” she said. “I do notice [getting extra sleep] makes it much easier to get up in the morning and to feel better and more energetic during the day.”

Oliver thinks that these simple steps can often be overlooked, and finds adjusting daily routines helpful in not only personal happiness but happiness with academic success. “When we feel good, we do good,” she said, believing this philosophy should be utilized to shift toward a new view of going through each day. “Approaching academics from a different angle could be really effective for a lot of people, and I don’t think it’s prioritizing well-being over academics, it’s just prioritizing it just as much,” she said. “In my mind I can’t see the difference.”

For Ganeshanathan, the Take Care theme has helped him settle into his new role as High School principal – thinking about where his priorities should be, and what steps he can take in transitioning smoothly. “I have a very driven personality which is a big asset,” he said. “But I think also, even though I want to learn everything as quickly as possible, that has to be balanced with being a healthy person [in terms of] taking care of my family. It isn’t just a transition for me, it’s a transition for my wife and daughters, so having that good ‘work-life’ balance is even more important.”

Continuing to serve the community in a variety of ways, including being intertwined with the PCA Auction on March 15-16 2019, Take Care is a cornerstone of the school’s focus. While present within the school environment, part of the theme is centered around the concept of it being applicable to life past high school – in college, adulthood, professional careers and families. “In a school context, we are doing things like this as a yearlong theme which is a good time frame that people can focus on this,” Ganeshanathan said. “But really, taking care should be more of a lifelong philosophy. It is essentially the idea of being a lifelong learner. It’s all metacognition about how you learn best and how you exist best.”

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