Health and Wellness Takes Center Stage in the Upper School

March 1, 2021

In late January, Upper School students participated in a young, but beloved tradition: Wellness Day. Now in its third year, Nightingale was able to pivot and successfully conduct a completely virtual Wellness Day to provide a full day for Upper School students to engage in workshops, conversations, and activities focused on their health and well-being. A collaboration between the Department of Health and Wellness, the Department of Counseling, and the Upper School Health and Wellness Board, the day is a chance for students to step away from their traditional academics, reset, and take away important information to benefit their health and wellness.

Prior to the day, students filled out a survey about which topics they would like to see taught and then were able to choose their schedule. Students on the Health and Wellness Board agreed that this personalized approach definitely promotes a higher level of engagement from students and inherently promotes active learning.

Director of Health and Wellness Robyn Jaffe noted, “We look forward to using community input in order to design a day of diverse programming that supports student well-being. We typically bring in a range of speakers from the NYC area, but this year's virtual format allowed us to invite speakers from across the country! This day signals the importance of giving attention to multiple dimensions of health, and provides students with the information and skills necessary to adopt healthy attitudes and behaviors related to personal wellness.”

Many of this year’s workshops focused on mental health, which the planning members felt was important, given the impact that the pandemic has had over the last year. “A Year Like No Other” addressed the heightened stress that students are facing today while living in the age of Covid-19. This workshop addressed a variety of research-supported, practical coping tools to help students recognize and manage negative emotions such as anxiety and sadness, achieve wellness, and improve their ability to function. In “Mindfulness and Meditation,” students learned about the benefits of mindfulness and took part in exercises to calm, focus, and center the mind and body. These courses, along with “Stress Management: Pandemic Edition” and “The Mind/Brain/Body Connection” gave many students the opportunity to add coping strategies to their toolkit as they continue to navigate a difficult year.

Other workshops included MINDfully at the table, which introduced students to the concept of intuitive eating: the practice of using your intuition and body wisdom to find your own answers about food. Callen-Lorde returned with sessions on gender identity and safer sex, the Maurer Foundation offered a workshop on breast health, the Billion Minds Institute discussied climate change and mental health, and a Communication Crash course led students through exercises to improve active listening and increase empathy, which both positively impact the ability to communicate effectively.

Director of Counseling Jenny McFeely reflected on the impact that Wellness Day has on the Upper School. “Every year, Wellness Day outdoes itself in the experience it offers to our Upper School students. The range of substantive and rich workshop offerings provides students with immediate access to essential information, but also the opportunity for reflection on maintaining their own well-being. And, just as important, students potentially have the opportunity to experience collective well-being as the day unfolds. It has quickly become an essential Nightingale tradition!”

One of the highlights of the day was the keynote address from Ericka Hart. Ericka is a Black queer femme activitst and sexuality educator. A highly acclaimed speaker and award-winning sexuality educator with a Master’s of Education in Human Sexuality from Widener University, she responded to students’ questions tackling the topics of body image, social media, and body activism. She offered some practical strategies for improving body image, while encouraging students to look beyond themselves into the broader world, to question messages about beauty standards, and to consider spaces and places that support the existence of all kinds of bodies.

This year also granted the opportunity for the seniors to engage in a virtual cooking class together. They worked their knife skills and got covered in flour as they made ricotta gnocchi with homemade sauce and an arugula salad. Not only did they have a great time, but they learned some practical kitchen skills and had a delicious meal at the end!

The Upper School Health and Wellness Board was incredibly grateful that the Upper School students are able to have a whole school day set aside specifically focused on health and wellness. Health and Wellness Board co-chair Julia W. ‘21 remarked, “Wellness Day is important because learning about health and well-being is an essential part of a well rounded education and the day gives students an opportunity to learn about health topics of interest to them. The fact that Nightingale has an entire day dedicated to health and wellness education is really emblematic of the school's dedication to caring for the health and well-being of students and ensuring students are educated on important health topics.”