Some ideas are like that grain of sand inside the oyster, nestled in a spot where it absorbs the elements that coat it. In the end – especially if one has planted the grain of sand, the idea – one hopes it will emerge layered and polished and more significant.
So it is, I hope, with a project that began modestly in the fall term. Virginia Ronning, who heads up our personal counselling at the School, has had her portfolio expanded in order to contemplate and plan how we pursue wellness at the school – for students foremost, but also for everyone else, since we can’t treat the students in isolation. Virginia has formed a small steering committee of a few staff and a parent, to explore how this grain of sand might translate into the pearl we hope it will be. No doubt in coming months this small group will spawn others who will extend its work. Underlying the purpose of this team is the notion that wellness involves as constructive and healthy a use of our time and inclinations as we can pursue. It is about balance.
Our students have busy lives, and they should have busy lives. They are whole people, whose main purpose here is academic growth, and where we recognize that the academic success takes place best in an environment where the character and the self also grow. So they play sports, perform service, join the orchestra, become leaders. How busy should students’ lives be? I have made the observation before that a busy schedule in which one is fulfilled is satisfying; a busy schedule in which one is buffeted from task to task without ownership or purpose is unsatisfying. The former might be tiring, but the latter is stressful. If you want to see a more desperate portrayal of this phenomenon turned dysfunctional, find an opportunity to see the film “Race to Nowhere,” about the pressures students are under in finding their way beyond high school. It is a scenario we avoid and want to continue avoiding. (For some discussion of “Race to Nowhere”, here are a couple of links: New York Times, Washington Post)
SMUS is receptive terrain for nurturing this notion of balance: we already construct a life of productive activity for our students, a life which is in tune with the aspirations of our parents and our staff. Much of the thinking of Virginia’s team will be around making the underlying framework of this busy life more explicitly healthy, and by making it more explicit also making it more purposeful. The emphasis of the planning will be on this special harmony of a healthy mind and body, of responsibility for self and others. It will not, for instance, be therapeutic. People, being human, require therapeutic attention at times, but in a school one tries to build a culture where the most therapy most people need is a good night’s sleep. If you find yourself in a position to polish this pearl, please lend a hand.