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From Furry Paws to Pelotons: Student and employee wellness programs offer Ravens support and fun

At top, Upper School students visit with a therapy dog from Canines For Service on Nov. 11; below, faculty and staff enjoy wellness activities including lawn games and yoga on Nov. 12.

As national trends continue to reflect the many mental health stressors created by the pandemic, school leadership has further bolstered student and employee wellness initiatives to help support all of the Ravens on campus.

The “Wellness Day” holiday on Friday, Nov. 12 — which gave students, faculty and staff an extra day to step away from the demands of school, rest and reset — capped a week that saw Upper Schoolers visiting with therapy dogs at LJ’s Place and faculty and staff enjoying lawn games, group fitness classes and tours of the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center during the teacher workday. 

“Recognizing the challenges we’re currently facing, we wanted to prioritize the health and wellness of our entire community — students, families, and faculty and staff,” Kendra Varnell, Assistant Head of School for Student Life, said.

“The Thursday workday specifically was an opportunity to combine the ‘head and the heart’ of Ravenscroft and prioritize the morale and well-being of faculty and staff,” added Justin Brandon, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs. 

Varnell and Brandon shared some of the feedback they have received from faculty and staff since last week:

  • “Thanks so much for the decision to hold the workday and to enrich it with so many wellness activities — it was great! I also cannot tell you how wonderful it was to have Friday off as a wellness day. I feel like I have been able to reset, reflect and reframe the year. I didn’t even know how much I needed it until I had it.”

  • “Today was THE BEST! Thank you so much for the time and space. Morale in my department is at an all-time high right now.”

  • “Thank you very much for giving us this gift of wellness opportunities today! My peloton workout with my colleagues, yoga and time to use as needed in my classroom or with my team was so needed.”

“We’re looking forward to holding additional wellness programming for faculty and staff during our March 21, 2022, workday,” Brandon concluded.

Of course, the opportunities of the last week didn’t happen in isolation: wellness programs are in full swing across all three divisions, with more to come! Read on for updates about the planning and implementation of wellness programs for Ravens of all ages.

Lower School (Lindsey Schreier)

Students dressed in Halloween costumes stand on the sidewalk with teacher Denise Simpson

Mrs. Simpson and her third-grade class gather in their costumes after the Fall Celebration and Parade.

At Ravenscroft we really focus on educating the whole child, which not only includes their cognitive development but their physical, social and emotional growth as well. Our Lead From Here program is a great way we teach and model those values for our students. It gives them a common language and foundation of how to find different ways to cope with the world around them and utilize their strengths as leaders to be as successful as possible. Lead From Here also gives our whole community (faculty, staff, parents) a routine foundation on how to regulate themselves and then in turn model and promote those values for the students. (Kids are sponges, after all!) Here are some wellness-related activities and programs in the Lower School:

  • Fall Celebration and Parade: With everything going on, it was so important to find some “normal” and get creative with celebrating the season with our young Ravens! 

  • “Mindful moments” are worked into our classroom schedules daily to encourage a mental and physical reset for our young Ravens.

  • Lead from Here launch lessons: Competencies coming up next for our students: Culturally inclusive (PreK), resilient (kindergarten and first grade), communicative (second and third grades), reflective (fourth grade) and adaptive (fifth grade).

  • Tree Talks are a way we build community and showcase all of the great Lead from Here competencies our students are using every day. The next Tree Talk will be in January and will focus on the MLK Day of Service, during which the Lower School students create ways and participate in giving back to the community. 

Middle School (Merritt Cole)

Middle Schoolers scramble to jump over the jumprope as a group

Middle School students enjoy fun activities on the campus green as part of their Community Day.

We strive to help our students understand the importance of their physical, psychological and emotional well-being and the role this plays in their intellectual growth and development. It’s important that we model this for our students by creating space and time for our own wellness as important adults in their lives. Taking this time also ensures our reserves are full so that we can continue to show up as our best selves for our students every day.

Here is some information regarding wellness-related programming in Middle School:

  • Therapy dogs from Canines For Service will come to the Middle School in December

  • Monthly “mindful moments” offered via our advisory program

  • Increased opportunities for community building and social time through clubs, Community Day, Day of Service and weekly “Advisory Fun and Bonding” time

We also talk a lot with parents about how much Lead From Here has given our students a strong foundation for social-emotional learning and wellness that has been essential for students (and all of us!) through the pandemic and beyond. 

 Upper School (Sam Borkovic)

Upper School students wearing sweatpants and pajamas pose on the patio

Upper School students enjoy Pajama Day on the patio, part of the schoolwide Spirit Week leading into Homecoming.

The Upper School’s theme for the year is Reconnection. After a disrupted school experience for many families over the last 18 months, we are intentionally programming moments of community time to deepen student-to-student and student-to-faculty relationships. Our community service board and student government have orchestrated a number of activities this year to promote reconnecting, including:

  • Homecoming theme week

  • Club Bazaar

  • Mid-semester food truck celebration

  • “Team of the Week” promotions at morning meetings

In addition to our caring faculty, who are trusted role models every day in the classroom, and the Lead From Here framework that provides fundamental life skills through advisory, the Counseling Department is also incorporating therapeutic strategies to support student mental health. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, the Upper School partnered with Canines for Service to bring therapy dogs, which provide comfort and joy to people in need, to campus. Students visited with furry new friends during their study halls, community time and lunch. It was amazing to watch all of the students find connection with one another through the therapy dogs. I saw students in different grades and from friend groups bond over a shared love and admiration for the dogs who visited. It almost seemed like the dogs knew we needed this and came ready! Therapy dogs provided an uplifting energy to community time and lunch. It was a really nice way to transition into the Veterans Day holiday weekend.

We’ve gotten great feedback on the visit from the therapy dogs, including a parent who shared, “That was a fantastic idea and so needed right now!” and a student who asked, “Can we do this all the time?”

While students were able to be with the dogs, they were also able to connect with the volunteer handlers about their community service efforts. If you are interested in learning more about the impact of service dogs for veterans and the work Canines for Service is providing to the community, please enjoy this video, and contact me with any questions. 

This is just a sampling of the ways our counseling team, in partnership with school leadership, faculty and staff, supports student wellness. Learn more about wellness programming coming to the new Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center and the expansion of the early childhood playground in the Lower School