Wellness Week Overview


Sadie Schwartz and Nishtha Sharma

Through daily workshops, an assembly featuring a prominent sleep doctor, and students, teachers, and staff members sharing their experiences with the school community, Wellness Week explored its theme, Mind and Body, and opened a dialogue surrounding issues of mental health.

“I was inspired by own experiences, in that I had had experiences with mental health issues that really were healed by the ability to speak up, have a kind of have a dialogue and use my resources,” Chloe Bown (12), President of the Wellness Initiative Club (WIC), said. “The idea was that, if this was successful and healing for me, then why not spread this positivity and make this impact [on] the whole school?”

The guidance office and members of WIC spent a tremendous amount of time and resources planning Wellness Week because it is important that the week is inclusive and reaches as many members of the community as possible, school Psychologist Dr. Liz Westphal said.

To plan for the assembly, the Office of Counseling and Guidance distributed “Wellness is…” prompts to all advisories. From the hundreds of the responses that the Office of Counseling and Guidance received, they tried to choose a representative sample and find community members who were willing and brave enough to share what they had written in the assembly, school Psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil said.

Some of the responses included Parul Sharma (12), who was stressed at the end of her junior year, but by taking a step back to “reflect and collect” herself, realized that it’s more important to take care of her mental health, she said.

Ricardo Pinnock (12) shared that telling himself that he’s “amazing, talented, and cool” contributes to his self esteem, he said.

English teacher Rebecca Bahr shared her meditation strategies, which included side stretches and focusing on the in and out of her breath, she said.

Bown thought about how she could build upon last year’s Wellness Week success and broaden everyone’s perspective on wellness. “I think we were able to do that by having an assembly that was similar in structure to last year’s but that presented a lot of new perspectives and had a lot of valuable information,” she said.

“We’re so happy to see the increase in student involvement this year, and are especially excited to see how that takes off in the future, since Wellness Week has grown so much from last year,” Billy Lehrman (12) said.

During the assembly, a group of students and faculty members performed “You Will be Found,” from the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, students gave testimonials of their own experiences with wellness, and students read anonymous answers to the “Wellness is…” prompt.

Sleep disorder specialist Dr. Michael Breus spoke about “Sleep Strategies for Really Busy High School Students.” The assembly concluded with Mahika Hari (12) and Ruthie Yankwitt (12) conversing with Breus about their sleep troubles.

Breus described the five stages of sleep and informed the audience that a sleep cycle takes 90 minutes to complete. He explained that stages three and four are physically restorative, while REM sleep is mentally restorative, and has vital effects such as moving information from short-term to long-term memory.

“Overall, I really enjoyed that it wasn’t a sleep assembly with him telling us that we all need nine hours of sleep, [and] I’m really happy that he acknowledged that nine hours of sleep isn’t realistic,” Liz Fortunato (11) said. “I do appreciate that he acknowledged our situation but he was giving us advice on how to work with the situation we have.”

Since sleep is divided into 90 minute cycles, Breus said that it is better to sleep for seven-and-a-half hours than for eight hours since it’s hard to wake up between sleep cycles. He also advised students to pick a bedtime, avoid contact with blue light before going to sleep, make up sleep on the weekends, use earplugs, and not to use the snooze button. He praised napping, but stressed that students can only nap for less than 25-minute or 90-minute increments.

Yankwitt described her sleep predicament to Breus: It takes her about two hours to fall asleep, and she simply lays in bed staring at the ceiling but not feeling tired, especially if she goes to bed around 10 p.m. Breus advised Yankwitt to get into bed at the usual, late hour she’s accustomed to since, if she gets into bed earlier, she won’t fall asleep anyway because her body’s circadian rhythm is accustomed to sleeping later.

“Initially, I was nervous to share my experience with sleep, but afterwards, I felt that I had learned a lot from Dr. Breus, especially because his advice was very realistic and practical for HM students,” Yankwitt said.

Workshops included guest speakers, drumming circles, knitting, therapy dogs, and more.

Holocaust survivor and clinical psychologist Dr. Edith Eger visited the school Thursday C and D periods with her daughter, also a psychologist, to discuss her book, The Choice, and hold a Q & A. Dr. Eger discussed her own life story and how she remains positive and enjoys life despite her traumatic past.

“Don’t let anyone define who you are. You’re beautiful because God doesn’t make junk,” Eger said.

“I thought Dr. Eger’s genuineness and positivity was really contagious,” Hannah Long (11) said. Long said that Dr. Eger motivated her to view her life through a “positive lens” and caused her to “step back and reflect” on her life thus far.

Accompanist Dr. Amir Khosrowpour and music teacher Alan Bates led a drumming circle outside of the cafeteria to “give students an opportunity to play for a few minutes, and drum their worries away,” they said. Laura Bae (10), who attended the workshop felt that it alleviated a lot of her internal stress. “I think drumming was a great way in which I could relieve my worries in a healthy manner,” she said.

“In the moment, it was a nice way to relax and let go of some of the stress we face during the school day,” Katie Fine (11) said. “It definitely made me feel happy for a few moments.”

The knitting workshop “definitely made me feel an increase in relaxation…because it’s not usually something you get to do in school,” Kyra Hill (12) said.

It was nice to focus on a task that really allowed her to clear her mind, Zoe Mavrides (12) said. It was a calming reminder of switching gears and taking a step back from all of the busy activities she has throughout the day, she said.

Kate Bown (9) led the stress ball-creating workshop. “It didn’t turn out exactly as we planned because the material wasn’t perfect, but people were just doing things for fun,” Bown said. “People tend to really like fidgety stuff if they’re nervous or in class, so I think it’s good to have something to play with and get your mind and anger out from it.”

Olivia Klein (11), President of the Animal Awareness Society, knows that students have been stressed lately, and she knows the effect that dogs can have on people. She wanted them to make people cheer up and bring light to their week, she said. “I hoped that people would feel less stressed and people realize how something so simple like a dog can affect your day so much.”

Klein hopes to bring therapy dogs again for testing week because “it was such a huge success,” she said.