When considering a school for their children, parents often prioritize important factors: What is the student/teacher ratio? What is the average class size? Will my child have access to co-curricular activities? And while campus amenities will glimmer and test scores will impress, one question that often goes unasked: To what degree does this school emphasize student wellness?
Student wellness is at the forefront of conversations in the independent school space, as national entities are uncovering unsettling statistics about mental health and children. According to the CDC, anxiety and depression rates among children ages 6 to 17 are on the rise – 5.4% in 2003, 8% in 2007, and 8.4% in 2012.
“Over the past decade, a lot of markers for psychological and physical wellness have declined,” said Will Bladt, associate head of school at St. George’s Independent School. “Many organizations attribute these alarming trends to increased screen time and consumption of social media.” Parents should look for schools that are effectively responsive to these trends.
Ask yourself: What are schools doing to ensure student wellness and how can I uncover these practices during a school tour and interview? Start by looking at the school’s regular operations. Delayed start times are a great indicator that a school takes student wellness into consideration. The National Sleep Foundation reported that students aren’t getting enough sleep, partially because of school start times and bussing schedules. By adjusting start times, schools allow for more sleep and can enhance classroom performance and well-being.
Ask administrators about their programs and policies that focus on student well-being and promote healthy lifestyles — important lessons they can carry into adulthood.
“At St. George’s, our goal is to ensure student success academically, socially, and emotionally,” said Bladt. “One of the ways in which we do this is through our advisory program. Each student is paired with a faculty mentor who provides a safe space for such topical discussions as the importance of having a growth mindset and embracing healthy habits of getting sufficient sleep, exercise, and nutritious food. Additionally, our Student Health and Wellness Task Force provides education and self-care opportunities, many of which are student-led, such as workshops on loneliness or mindfulness and ‘Just Dance’ sessions.”
Ultimately, you want to choose a school that emphasizes personal growth and development, and includes a focus on student wellness. And as important as these programs are, nothing facilitates achievement and wellness more than children having meaningful, supportive relationships. Parents should consider a school that ensures their child is well-known, supported, and appreciated by faculty and peers.
“The goal of a school is no longer simply to educate students,” said Bladt. “It is also to build a supportive community where students are known and their gifts and talents are recognized and developed.”