Balance and Wellness Report

Balance and Wellness Report
by Paul Wieman, Upper School Principal

In mid-December, an entire vacation ago, I received a report from the Balance and Wellness Committee, one of the main committees of our recent strategic plan, and I have begun working on the committee's suggestions and proposals. In the spirit of New Year's resolutions, now seemed an appropriate time to explain to the entire Upper School community what is being done thus far and the work we hope to do in the immediate future.

The Balance and Wellness Committee is hoping to generate a mindfulness program and has asked the Upper School to form a small committee that will work with the all-school committee to determine how this program will intersect with the Upper School schedule. I have already asked Jacquie Butera, the Upper School social worker and Dean of Student Life (and member of the Health and Wellness Committee) to work with Alison Doernberg and Johnny Flynn, who lead Peer Leaders and oversee Life Skills, and Georgette Summers, who teaches tenth grade health, to examine how to enact the suggestions that the strategic planning committee offers the Upper School.

A second area we wish to address is assessments in the Upper School. This will first require a fact-finding team, and the Upper School statistics class has agreed to compile the information regarding when and how assessments are given for each and every Upper School class. The class's charge is to generate the data that accounts for different types of assessments and when each assessment is given, and then create a compelling manner in which to present the data. The goal is to collect data from now to the start of the exam period, and once compiled, a committee of students and adults will move forward with this information and determine what is needed to address this topic.

Homework is a recurring issue. Last year, we developed a non-AP homework policy and published it in the handbook, and the committee asked this year that we look into two other homework issues: creating an AP homework policy and removing academic work from the Winter and Spring breaks. The second has already been accomplished with faculty support this Winter break. Homework was almost completely eliminated from the two-week vacation, and no assessments were given the first two days after we returned. Unfortunately, given the lateness of the request, not EVERY class could adjust with just a week's notice, but almost everyone was on board with no homework and everyone cleared the calendar of assessments this past Monday and Tuesday. That's a big step forward already, and come Spring break, we will all be doing this.

In terms of an AP homework policy, that is a more complicated issue and will require more thought and input. I have already put together a committee of five teachers and four students who have been charged with discussing and creating an AP homework policy that will go before Academic Affairs for review and vote. Much of the necessary data has been collected, and I hope that next year's handbook will include a new AP homework policy.

The committee has asked the Upper School to continue to identify issues and situations and discuss how to manage them when they happen. To this end, the Heads of the Drama, Music, and Athletic departments will meet with me on the first of each month, specifically to review the calendar, looking ahead over the next two months to see where we have bottlenecks and concerns and discuss what course of actions we need to take. In addition, we will look back a month and see if there were areas that need improvement and what we might learn from roads we just traveled. I am pleased to report that we have already had our January meeting, discussed the conflicts that will exist around the Festival Chorus this month and the musical next month, intersected these concerns with possible tournament dates, and developed an action plan to work with upcoming situations well in advance. We can't necessarily change the schedule, but we can reduce the stress on students who are pulled in two or more directions, and that work is happening already.

This is not everything we are working on, but it is an energetic start that is the direct result of the good work of the Balance and Wellness Committee. Some other questions we are discussing include faculty issues of balance and finding natural lulls in our calendar to identify them as times to rejuvenate. These are getting attention, as well.

Some years ago, I stood in front of the Upper School faculty and spoke about a pace that was not sustainable, about a culture that had the potential to spin out of control, and about the loss of reflective time and the benefits that come with a balanced approach to life. While we all nodded in agreement, we were not able to generate the time and space necessary to move us in a direction we all knew we needed to go. Now, with the aid of a strategic plan and the work of an all-school committee, we are excited to see these ideas finally gain traction. In this, the season of New Year's resolutions and new beginnings, we are eager and excited to move the Upper School forward towards a healthier and more balanced life.