By Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., and Lauren Lineback Psy.D.This article appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin
The Wellness Center remained a “Haven for Hiller Health” throughout TowerHill@Home. While the method of delivery shifted to virtual meetings and engagement over a screen, the focus of students, parents and faculty members remained similar: continued attention on the social-emotional and academic well-being of students. While students were no longer able to spend their study halls doing work in the Wellness Center or drop in for a mint and quick chat en route to sports, connection and services remained in place. Like teachers, we found ourselves trying to determine a way to imitate in an online environment the same security and comfort that our physical space affords. In order to prepare for the transition, we met with the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children to identify best practices for remote work with students. We also met with other local independent school psychologists. While some aspects of our work were easier to replicate in this new medium, others were more challenging, and our summer was spent preparing for potential changes in the fall.
A few examples of Wellness Center services that transitioned most easily to TowerHill@Home included:
• Connecting with students at lunchtime via Middle School Lunch Bunches or Lower School Social Lunches
• Lower and Middle School students took advantage of virtual Wellness Center “walk in” hours.
• We reached out to students and families and provided check-ins in ongoing ways or as new needs were identified. One-on-one meetings with Lower, Middle and Upper School students and families continued or began via Zoom.
• Twelfth grade Peer Leaders continued to meet with their ninth grade Peer Leadees; while it was not perfect, we learned from our growing pains, and changes will take place if TowerHill@Home resumes at any point next year. In preparation for the 2020-2021 school year, 24 eleventh grade students interviewed for the 2020-2021 Peer Leadership program.
• Kindergarten students learned to identify and regulate their feelings during weekly lessons using the Kimochi’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program, a systematic curriculum that uses cuddly characters to identify emotions, behaviors and the relationship between them.
• Lower School held its final Teaching Tuesday presentation with an expert in the field. We also held “Parenting through a Pandemic” for Tower Hill families.
• We supported Division Heads during various meetings with parents to address the shift to online learning.
• Student support teams remained in place: We met with teachers, parents and supporting professionals in order to assist students, and we worked with the Teaching and Learning Center to prepare for the second annual Tower Hill Educators (THE) Collaboratory.
• An eleventh grade student created a Mental Health Club with oversight from the Wellness Center, and the student plans to continue this club next year.
• We initiated a weekly gathering for teachers and staff titled “Supporting Student Stress” in order to allow them to identify and address specific challenges of helping students learn online.
• We added a Wellness Center section to the weekly TowerHill@Home communication.
At the heart of these endeavors was an effort to advance and sustain the ongoing mission of the Wellness Center, which is to support the emotional growth and mental health of all of our students. During TowerHill@Home, specific challenges that students faced included missing in-person time with friends and conducting their lives over screens. When most of one’s existence is lived through the same platform, it can feel tedious and confusing. While some students found this way of life to be easier, others needed to to adapt and find new ways to maintain motivation and avoid distraction as many of their favorite parts of the day—sports, clubs, lunch, playground/hallway time—were stripped away. Much of our work focused on helping students to establish new routines that included moving, eating well, finding fun things to do, sleeping well, creating, enjoying, being and breathing. As the school year drew to a close, we provided resources as students, parents and the entire community pondered the reality of a physically distant summer and ways to manage during an ongoing pandemic. Our summer was spent beginning to reflect on the potential for post traumatic growth, which is the possibility of positive change and development that can evolve from challenge. Our hope is that, as a community, we can retain the “silver linings” of this historic experience and emerge stronger and more compassionate.
Wellness Center Mission
The Wellness Center is a structural and symbolic hub for community well-being at Tower Hill. Literally tagged as “A Haven for Hiller Health,” the Wellness Center is committed to the mission of supporting the emotional growth and mental health of all of our students.
The Wellness team collaborates directly with students, families and faculty to lessen the impact of social-emotional difficulties on daily life for students. The goals are to identify specific needs, to plan for student support and to determine the appropriate level of intervention that is required, so that all students may function to the best of their capability. Helping students to develop positive habits of self-care and a true sense of self-awareness are also part of this process.
The Wellness Center is also focused on the proactive establishment of healthy life patterns through teaching, programming and parent education. Collectively, these endeavors allow our students to cope as needed and thrive when possible.