Is Latin Serious about Health and Wellness?

Johnny Gross Co-Editor-in-Chief This year Latin teachers and faculty are making health and wellness a focal part of the school’s core values. With a reputation as one of the most difficult academic institutions in the state, Latin is seeking to modify its cutthroat atmosphere, while still maintaining academic excellence and integrity. This means assigning fewer three-hour-long homework assignments and creating less stressful testing environments. Mr. Greer, chair of the history department and head of the health and wellness committee, started the revamped wellness initiative in earnest last year with the teacher-student shadow program. “We learned a tremendous amount from teacher-student shadowing,” said Mr. Greer when asked how the shadow program succeeded last year. “Going into this year, it feels like we have a clear set of priorities. For example, from the teacher shadows, we learned a lot about what kind of homework is being assigned. So this year we can work on addressing both quantity and quality of homework.” Mr. Greer explained that students spent most of their time doing homework on assignments that involved a lot of busy work. “We learned that it’s the busy work that was really problematic. We want students to be willing to invest time in well-crafted, meaningful assignments that don’t always have a single right answer. It’s not the number of minutes spent on homework that matters, it’s what you get from it and how it helps you with the class material.” With the new knowledge from last year’s shadow program, it is the hope that this year teachers will be more intentional with the homework that they assign, so as not to create unnecessary stress for the students. Although not a product of the health and wellness committee, the implementation of several no-homework-weekends last year did its part in lowering stress among students. But this year Mr. Greer, and other members of the Latin community, are striving towards a more obvious, year-long difference in the mental wellness of students and teachers alike. In light of reducing stress and making class time more meaningful, teachers have already begun changing the way they conduct their classes. Upper School history teacher Ms. Gallagher has taken to heart the wellness strategies proposed by Mr. Coberly and Mr. Greer at the beginning of the year. “I plan to incorporate a greater focus on wellness in my classes this year with mindful, practical exercises like the breathing routines Mr. Greer and Mr. Coberly taught and continue to employ in our staff meetings.” Ms. Gallagher has done these breathing exercises with some classes before assessments to help lower stress. “Another way I promote wellness in my classes is by being more flexible. For instance, I’ve extended homework assignments when I’ve felt a deadline is somewhat inhumane in light of new information about student commitments.” “I think wellness is tremendously important,” continued Ms. Gallagher on the actual necessity of wellness in a classroom setting. “Last year was an eye-opening experience in that I witnessed levels of stress and intensity in my students and colleagues that I hadn’t seen before. I like to think that if I am deliberate with students in practicing wellness the outcomes will mitigate high stress levels and anxiety.” But Ms. Gallagher is not naive to think that this larger focus on wellness can entirely rid students of stress. “I know I can’t eradicate all stress, in fact a little stress can often serve as motivation, but my goal is try to turn it down from an excessive to a manageable level.” And this exactly is the long-term goal of Mr. Greer and the Upper School wellness committee. “Students have not been informed about productive ways to deal with stress.” said Greer, stating the root of the problem of stress at the Latin school. “We hope to be able to give students a range of thoughtful and effective responses to stress. We hope to work towards chipping away at the perfectionist culture at Latin.” With the help of the wellness committee and thoughtful teachers like Mr. Gallagher, Latin is poised to become a more versatile school with values of academic excellence and community pride, but also general wellness of the student and faculty body. Too often, in competitive, difficult schools, does the focus on how students are actually doing fall by the wayside. ]]>