Upper School Division Head Amanda Finigan pitched the idea of Wellness Day last year, in part because she recognized stress in both students and faculty as they adjusted to life after the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the long-term value she knew students would gain by learning and practicing mindfulness.
"We are in a culture where we have all the information all the time,” Ms. Finigan says. "We can get things and do things so fast that we don’t stop to take care of ourselves, and we can’t be successful in life unless we can take care of ourselves and know how to rest.”
Working with the Student Resource Team and faculty from across the division, Ms. Finigan organized a day of wellness activities for Upper School students that included walks in Mellon Park, yoga, flag football, acrylic painting, puzzles, chess, and board games. A group of Japanese Taiko drummers visited the school for a performance that served as the day’s keynote event.
With the success of last year’s event, Ms. Finigan and Middle School Division Head Jenn Moynihan worked together this year to expand Wellness Day to the Middle School.
"One of my priorities since starting at Ellis has been to build out the wellness curriculum in Middle School,” Ms. Moynihan says. "As girls hit puberty, they need to be more aware of how they’re taking care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.”
Ms. Moynihan notes that in Lower School adults are typically the ones driving the wellness process for students, but that Middle School is a transitional time where students are learning to care for themselves.
"In Lower School, so much of self-care is done through play and the students don’t even realize that,” Ms. Moynihan says. "When they’re acting out being in a family or going to a store, that’s also them figuring out how to socialize and problem solve. Unstructured time, mindfulness, music, and reading are all things I know [students] enjoy doing, and Middle School is the time when those things can start falling by the wayside as they get more involved in extracurricular activities. This is a way of helping them learn how to make time for themselves.”
This year’s Wellness Day was also a way for students to connect with each other across divisions. Many of the day's activities were for Middle School and Upper School students together, which facilitated community between students. Lower School students were included in building a Wish Tree, an activity organized by Art Teacher Helena Elko in which students from all divisions added personal, anonymous wishes to a panel displayed in Alumnae Hall. The day also included a performance by a local double dutch jump-roping group, and a visit from members of The Friendship Circle
, which taught mindfulness activities.
Ms. Moynihan says, ideally, wellness days will be held multiple times during the year moving forward. And, importantly, Wellness Day isn’t just for the students—it’s for the faculty and staff, too. She encourages her teachers to model how to take care of themselves because students learn as much from watching how their teachers handle a situation as they do from listening to classroom instruction.
"The more we can talk to our students about their physical and mental health, the more prepared they’re going to be when they leave us,” Ms. Finigan says. "These students are extremely intelligent and our curriculum is rigorous. Hopefully this inspires them to know that it’s important to take care of yourself and how to be healthy—in your mind and in your physical health—and that you can be well while engaging in your academics.”