Published in The Hebrew Watchman, August 30, 2018
Responding to a growing body of research, Bornblum Jewish Community School has introduced a program of student and teacher wellness for the new academic year. According to Sally Baer, General Studies Principal and Assistant Head of School, “A wealth of recent research suggests that today’s students are growing up in an age of anxiety.”
Baer points to a 2017 article in Psychology Today, entitled Dealing with Stress at School in an Age of Anxiety, in which University of Michigan Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Daniel P. Keating, Ph.D., explains that, “Teachers and educational leaders in particular feel the stress coming from all directions — teachers are stressed, students are stressed, staff is stressed, and parents are stressed.” According to Keating, “Dealing effectively with this system-wide stress is critical…”
Keating’s words ring true with Bornblum’s administrators who have observed a increased pressure on students, parents and teachers in recent years. “Students live in a fast-paced, competitive world. Technology has increased the pace of life and brought an unprecedented amount of stimuli from every direction,” says Baer. Bornblum’s new Head of School, Daniel R. Weiss adds that, “At Bornblum, we want students to experience a healthy and supportive school environment where they build resilience as they face social, academic, psychological or physical challenges”
To create what Professor Keating refers to as, “an environment of resilience,” Bornblum is building a program that will focus on students overall well-being. For example, in partnership with Jewish Family Service at the MJCC, Bornblum students will attend activity-based classes with LCSW, Rashki Osina, where they will focus on communication and building healthy relationships. Osina says, “As kids get older, communicating with others is key to building healthy relationships and reducing stress.”
Activities Osina plans for kindergarten through fifth grade students who will meet with her twice per month, include things like deep breathing, expressive art, journaling and role playing. With middle school students, who will meet with her more frequently, Osina plans to teach not only techniques for a calming approach to life, but will also provide a comfortable environment where students can talk about their needs.
In Physical Education, students are learning and practicing the use of deep breathing and gentle yoga stretches to help them stay focused and centered. “Our goal is to teach the students simple ways that they can remain calm whenever they feel their stress levels beginning to increase,” says PE teacher Mrs. Cindy Vinsonhaler.
After school, students also have opportunities to learn healthy responses. A new dance class, led by first grade teacher Rachael Rovner, includes a focus on emotional strength and using music and dance as a means to express feelings and cope with difficult situations. According to Rovner, “We begin each class with a check- in. We include our name, how we are feeling and our goals for the class. We end each class the same way. We talk about the speed and rhythm of the music and how it can affect our mood. We talk about how exercise gets our bodies healthy, but also our minds.”
In aftercare for third through fifth graders, teacher Stephanie Slough works with her students on mindfulness, the practice of focusing on the present moment in order to be in touch with one’s feelings and thoughts. “If we can get our students to focus calmly on the present rather than worrying about what happened in the past or will happen in the future, they can approach the task before them with clarity and success,” says Slough.
According to Weiss, “These innovations are just the beginning of a multi-year focus on student wellness. An important step this year will be to provide our teachers the tools they need to create an environment of resilience throughout the school.” To this end, Bornblum’s administration has set student and faculty wellness as one of its top Professional Development priorities for the year. “This training will set the stage for today’s Bornblum students to graduate ready to handle all of the challenges that lie ahead of them,” says Baer.