One morning in October, Middle School teacher Beth Richter arrived at school at 7:15 a.m. with a container of fresh strawberries lodged between a pile of New York bagels and a bin of cream cheese. It wasn’t just a healthy breakfast that she was after, however.
She and her colleagues on the school’s new Wellness Curriculum Task Force were meeting to investigate possible curricula that Hamden Hall might adopt or develop to assist students in Grades 6 through 10 as they navigate a variety of life challenges, from developing healthy relationships to managing stress to recognizing symptoms of serious problems like depression and addiction.
The mission of the task force, set up by Head of School Bob Izzo, is to meet with faculty, parents, and students, assess programming needs, survey existing health and wellness curricula, and make recommendations for adopting, adapting, and/or building an a developmentally appropriate and cohesive wellness curriculum for students. Task force members who are contributing to this effort include consulting psychologist Tom Fahy, health educator Ellen Wormser, school nurse Theresa Valin, freshman class dean Charles Alexander, and English teacher Allison Ehrenreich.
The task force is being chaired by Ms. Richter, who is excited by the opportunity to help the school fill what she feels is a very important need. “Current statistics suggest that roughly 20 percent of adolescents experience a significant mental health issue during their middle or high school years, which is a notable increase from a decade ago,” she said.
“Our pre-teens and teens are constantly faced with new challenges, from family losses to getting enough sleep to coping with 24/7 social media feeds to figuring out how to communicate with a romantic partner. Misinformation and a fear of asking for help can get in the way of kids making good decisions. Normalizing informed conversations about difficult topics is an essential part of helping these kids grow up to be healthy adults.”
Mr. Izzo instituted the task force in August when meeting with Ms. Richter to discuss curricular changes in Middle School science. Ms. Richter, who has a longtime interest in promoting a coherent health curriculum, had observed the variety of wellness programming at peer schools during her research. She suggested that developing an integrated health curriculum at Hamden Hall could serve two purposes: opening up more space for new content in some of our life sciences courses, while filling a critical need for our student body. Mr. Izzo’s response was immediate and positive, and the task force was born.
“Developing a wellness curriculum for our Middle and Upper School students has been on my to-do List for two or three years,” Mr. Izzo said. “So when Beth Richter expressed an interest in helping Hamden Hall develop a wellness program, I jumped at the opportunity to tap into her broad academic background and organizational skills. Beth and her task force have embarked on a study that will ultimately benefit every Hamden Hall student.”
Director of Lower School Lorri Carroll and sixth-grade teachers Beth Hunter and Andrea Calandrelli also met with Ms. Richter in October and are fully on board with the school’s goal of providing students and families with age-appropriate information and resources that promote healthy development. They noted that a wellness curriculum would flow naturally from the Lower School’s Responsive Classroom curriculum, which aims to help students become responsible participants in a community while teaching them a range of positive strategies for self-regulating their emotions.
The Wellness Curriculum Task Force is just starting its work, and its members already recognize that there is no curriculum that can cover every topic and meet every student’s needs. But they share the conviction that a developmentally appropriate curriculum that scaffolds from year to year can help students to build a resilient community that they can count on.
“Every kid will go through times of crisis and times of calm,” Ms. Richter said. “We want our kids to know, before a crisis arrives, that they can turn to their parents, their teachers, and their peers for support. Together, they have knowledge, they have choices, and they have allies.”