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Wellness Hopes to Elevate Student Voices

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Wellness Hopes to Elevate Student Voices

Peer counselors and lead prefects meet for training.

Peer counselors and lead prefects meet for training.

Eliza Turner '20

Peer counselors and lead prefects meet for training.

Eliza Turner '20

Eliza Turner '20

Peer counselors and lead prefects meet for training.

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Groton School’s Wellness program is dedicated to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. To stay true to its central purpose, the Counseling Office will undergo a “rebuilding year” to update and revitalize its counseling and health programs. Leading the charge are Groton’s own students and peer counselors, who have been providing constructive feedback to change Wellness.

“The rebuilding year means that there will be changes but we are taking a year to elicit student feedback and integrate that more into the program,” said Abigail Frantz, who oversees the Wellness curriculum.

The Wellness program has taken into account a series of formal and informal surveys conducted by the school, including the standardized all-school survey taken last spring and surveys of the peer counselors. Barbara Cheeks, who helps lead Wellness and certify the peer counselors, said the school has not received the results of the official survey from the Independent School Health Check yet, but that ISHC will release the results to the school in various formats throughout the coming year. Mrs. Cheeks also conducted Google surveys with peer counselors at the end of each trimester, asking them what they thought worked well and what needed improvement (these surveys will continue this year).

“We would meet up and discuss how things were going, what changes we wanted to see,” peer counselor Sandra Redjali ’19 explained.

“We always have the option of going to Mrs. Cheeks and telling her any changes we wish to see for the Wellness program,” peer counselor Dashy Rodriguez ’19 added. She also said, “I personally want more talk about eating disorders and disordered eating.”

To address similar student comments for more discussion on mental and sexual health, Ms. Frantz promises one major change to the Wellness curriculum: experts will be invited to speak to students throughout the year. While not all speakers are confirmed, Will Slotnick and Kim O’Brien will be visiting the Circle. Mr. Slotnick is the founder and director of Wellness Collaborative, an organization dedicated to promoting youth health and preventing substance abuse. No stranger to the Independent School League (ISL), Mr. Slotnick has been working as a substance abuse specialist for over twenty-five years and recently taught at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School. Dr. O’Brien is even more familiar with the ISL and life on the Circle, as she covered Ms. Frantz’s maternity leave last winter. She will be speaking on depression and suicide. Ms. Frantz also hopes a health educator will come to speak on sexual education, focusing on healthy relationships and consent.

Fourth form Wellness is also being significantly modified. Last year, it focused on managing and overcoming failure; this year, it will focus primarily on mental health and sexual education. “We will have talks on anxiety, eating disorders, suicide and depression, substance use education and sex-ed,” Ms. Frantz said.

This curriculum change comes after a series of other adjustments in the past three years, including moving the dates of second and third form Wellness to Tuesday evenings, developing a new theme-based lower school health curriculum, and updating the sixth form programs with workshops by Impact Boston, a self-defense school, and finance classes offered by Arthur Diaz, Chief Financial Officer.

In addition to updating the Wellness classes, the Counseling Office has also been partnering more closely with the Dean of Students Office and new student organizations. Lead prefects have joined peer counselors for part of their training. Dr. Fritz-Ellis explained, “Both groups are trained together on active listening skills and working as a team with dorm residents to run a dynamic dorm.” Last year, a group of students also launched the Groton School chapter of Active Minds, a nonprofit focused on supporting mental health awareness and education. Tilly Brooks ’19, member of the Groton School Active Minds board, said the group began as a part of the peer counseling program. Now she hopes that “students will view [Active Minds] as… a community open to all who are interested in directing the mental health discussion at Groton in a positive, productive direction.” The Counseling Office echoed her remarks, saying it looks forward to seeing the student-run organization increase its presence on campus.

“The past few years have seen many changes in Wellness… [but the development of any new program] takes planning, implementing, evaluating for a few cycles until you really figure out the best approach. Even three years in we are still in the early stages for a change of this magnitude,” Dr. Fritz-Ellis said. However, despite the challenges of instituting these new changes, students can be confident that, with their help, Wellness will continue to be a pillar of Groton education full of important lessons outside the classroom.

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