Focus on Student Health and Wellness Is Hallmark of Kelly’s Tenure

Focus on Student Health and Wellness Is Hallmark of Kelly’s Tenure
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Julie Dengler

From her first major fundraising campaign to her championing of a holistic approach to health and wellness, Head of School Doreen Kelly has shaped and improved the student experience in this space.

When families attend a sporting event or wellness seminar at Ravenscroft today, they may not realize they have entered a field of realized dreams, but they have — and much of that is thanks to the vision of Head of School Doreen Kelly.

From the first major fundraising campaign of her tenure, which helped modernize athletic facilities across campus, to her championing of programs and staffing that support a holistic approach to health and wellness, Kelly has shaped and improved the student experience in this space.

“If you could dream it, we talked about it and we made plans,” longtime head athletic trainer Michelle “Coach P” Piette said. “You couldn’t have had a better partner in looking at the health and the well-being of the entire campus.”

From “Charge to Victory” to the Olander Center

In the early 2000s, it was clear that some critical improvements to the school’s athletic facilities were needed. The stadium complex — featuring a six-lane asphalt track and a scooped-out playing field known as “The Bowl,” with aging bleachers, a small concession stand and an outmoded press box nearby — was in need of updating. Other playing fields, some with few amenities, were sprawled across the campus.

“There was a really big need for us to take a good look at our main facility … and try to redesign to accommodate the needs of the environment,” Athletic Director Ned Gonet remembered.

As the new Head of School in 2003, Kelly got out in front of the $3M Charge to Victory fundraising campaign that made much of the athletic campus of today possible. The campaign marked the first step in her vision to bring intentional focus to student health and wellness.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: This article in the Oct. 1, 2003, Nevarmore student newspaper explores campus updates being made possible by the Charge to Victory campaign; an ongoing emphasis on programmatic excellence in athletics has benefited our student-athletes, such as varsity lacrosse player Cole Cutter ’15, shown in this photo from 2015; Gonet Gateway, named in honor of longtime Athletic Director and varsity football coach Ned Gonet, is a visible reminder of the impact of Charge to Victory. 

“Charge to Victory was a game changer,” Gonet said. “Doreen led the charge by pioneering and encouraging people to take a really good look at what needed to be done to enhance our facilities and our programs.”

“Charge to Victory brought Ravenscroft into a new era of athletics — for the athlete and the fan,” former Ravenscroft Athletic Club president (and, later, trustee) Vicki Detweiler, parent to Rhett ’08 and Walker ’10, said. “It was truly the beginning.”

The successful campaign funded major improvements to facilities and grounds for nearly every sport on campus — and became the foundation for subsequent enhancements to facilities that support a robust school culture focused on wellness, equity, inclusion and access for all. Fifteen years later, Kelly partnered with RAC leaders to fund a major renovation of the A.E. Finley Activity Center’s weight room and, in 2022, brought a long-held vision for the school to fruition with the opening of the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center.

Former RAC president Beth Atkeson, parent to Henry ’16, Calvin ’18 and Jane ’21, said Kelly has “led by example. She saw the value of athletics inside and outside of the classroom. She strove for excellence in everything, and she never took her foot off the gas the whole time she was here.”

Kelly is joined by members of S.A.L.T. (Student Athlete Leadership Training) at the September 2019 ribbon-cutting of the renovated weight room, which features equipment that is inclusive of all student-athletes; the Olander Center for Student Life provides even more spaces for student activities and wellness, including a dedicated yoga and meditation room, being used here by Middle School students in May 2022.

Kelly shares school leaders’ vision for the Olander Center for Student Life and thanks both the A.E. Finley Foundation and lead donors Michael and Candace Olander in her remarks at the March 16, 2022, ribbon-cutting for the renovated and expanded building.

Curricular growth and expanded student opportunities

Piette, who retired in 2017 after a 31-year tenure as an assistant athletic director, certified athletic trainer and teacher, emphasized that the many improvements to athletic facilities and grounds went hand in hand with new programs and student opportunities.

Piette’s own pioneering work in sports medicine was behind many of them. As the sole certified athletic trainer for much of her time at Ravenscroft, she created a program for student trainers and, as more became known about certain risks in athletics, oversaw the development of schoolwide concussion protocols and an expansion of the school’s supply of defibrillators. Her students, inspired by their own growing passion for sports medicine, clamored for related science courses, which Piette started teaching.

In this photo from the 2005 Corvus at left, student trainer Leigh Kelly Matta ’06 assists varsity soccer athlete Michael Penick ’05; longtime head athletic trainer Michelle Piette poses on the football sidelines with student trainers Sara Hyde ’08, Lauren Ginocchio ’09 and Ashley Swanson ’09 in this photo from the Winter 2008 Ravenscroft Magazine.

“The sports medicine class was amazing. It not only taught athletes about our anatomy and how to better understand and prevent injuries, but it also trained students who could then assist athletes,” Alex Marchi ’20 said of his experience here as both a multisport athlete and a student trainer. “This was a major advantage when it came to being a student-athlete at Ravenscroft.”

Kelly, Piette said, was instrumental in making these programmatic advances possible.

“Doreen provided us that support that said, ‘We can do this, and we can do it even better than what we are doing,’” she said. “Now there are three certified athletic trainers on staff. Again, it was really Doreen saying ‘This is important.’’’

Student-athletes such as 2018 junior varsity soccer player Katie Loturco ’22, at top, have experienced enhanced training and sideline safety due to the growth in programs and protocols supporting student wellness; Ravenscroft’s three certified athletic trainers — Mike Rice, Sophia Armstrong Cole ’11 and Sean Thomas — provide classroom instruction and ensure student-athlete wellness during practices and competitions, earning the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Safe Sports School Award in both 2020 and 2023.

Today, under the leadership of head athletic trainer Sophia Armstrong Cole ’11 — one of many Ravens who followed in Piette’s footsteps — Ravenscroft has continued to focus on student health and safety in athletics. Since 2020, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association has designated us a Safe Sports School.

A continued commitment to wellness and equity

But Kelly didn’t stop there. With philanthropic support from like-minded Ravens, she has also created two new positions dedicated to holistic student wellness.

In 2015, a gift from the Sloan family allowed school leaders to endow the new position of Assistant Head of School for Student Affairs. Overseeing faculty and staff whose work is focused on health and wellness, this role allows Ravenscroft to further nurture students in all aspects of their experience here.

Supports for student well-being in the Lower School include the leadership team’s Tree Talks — with counselor Lindsey Barnett, shown here in October 2023, bringing clinical expertise (and fun!) — and helping students understand and name their emotions, such as with this classroom feelings chart from the 2021-22 school year.

As Assistant Head of School for Student Affairs today, Kendra Varnell, a licensed psychologist, describes her role as that of an advocate for student voices and well-being at the highest levels of leadership. The position involves “being able to think strategically and programmatically for the school but also supervise the day-to-day protocols and the well-being of students,” she explained.

“Doreen has consistently chosen to put resources in places that are devoted to the health and well-being of our students,” she added.

Visits from certified therapy dogs, such as this December 2021 event for Middle Schoolers, provide students with the opportunity to nurture their own wellness; nationally recognized experts Lynn Lyons (at left) and Traci Baxley are 2023-24 keynotes of the Parent Education Series, one way the school provides parents and guardians with guidance on students’ social and emotional development.

Those resources include a dedicated mental health clinician at each division of the school and, new this year, a clinical position to support the Athletic Department. Director of Student-Athlete Well-being Sam Borkovic serves “as a mental health expert and voice on student affairs with coaches, athletic trainers, mentors and student leaders in S.A.L.T. [Student-Athlete Leadership Training] — as well as the Physical Education Department, the counseling and health team, and, of course, families,” she explained. This role also supports gender-equitable athletic programming, with Borkovic spearheading seasonal Girls in Sports showcases to highlight team accomplishments and encourage even more female Ravens to get involved in sports.

Ravenscroft’s two decades of growth in these critically important areas are proof that Kelly has made good on her charge from the board to connect “the head and the heart” of Ravenscroft.

“There are many challenges with the work that we face,” Varnell concluded. “But I never have to convince our Head of School or our board of trustees that student well-being is important.”

Above: In this photo from 2016, track and field athletes train on Ravenscroft’s rubberized track, with the enhanced amenities of Gonet Gateway in the background; these updates and more were made possible by the 2003 Charge to Victory fundraising campaign.

Students at Gonet Gateway show their pride in being Ravens in this archival photo.


Ravens Exercise Self-Care Through Wellness Programming (March 14, 2022)

New Center for Student Life Emphasizes Holistic Wellness (Fall 2020)

Athlete Wellness Takes Center Stage in Renovated Weight Room (Fall 2019)

Athletics Practices, Protocols Aim to Keep Students Safe (Spring 2019)

Connecting the Head and Heart of Ravenscroft (Winter 2015)