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Managing the Stress

Wellness Friday provides healthy outlets for students

Conversations throughout the initial weeks of the pandemic in March 2020 took on a different tone. The interruption of on-campus instruction and the cancellation of after-school activities posed a test for the St. Joseph High School community.

Students, parents and teachers could each claim a number of stress-induced challenges as it became evident that the uncertain times ahead were going to warrant change.

Taking care of one’s mental and physical health amid the disconcerting times was one of those challenges addressed by the leadership of St. Joes, and one of the means to keeping students healthy evolved into Wellness Friday, experienced by the Chargers earlier this semester.

“Wellness Friday was designed to promote the development of healthy habits for students to lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle,” said Katie Pool, St. Joes curriculum director. 

To that end, three mini-workshops were provided by SJHS personnel and invited guests.

Athletic director Vicente Peña, a regular participant at Mindful Meditation Monday, held weekly in the counseling center, led students in a workshop on yoga.

“The purpose was to expose students to something different. We worked on breathing to help focus and then to let students be aware that yoga works the mind and the body.”

A second session was led by Pool. She guided students through a journaling exercise, preceded with the viewing of a TED talk by Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, whose topic was “Using your voice is a political choice.”

“We wanted to introduce our students to journal writing as a creative means of expression, especially as a conduit to de-stressing and dealing with frustrations or feelings of anxiousness,” Pool said. “Students chose to either free-write for 30 minutes or respond to one or more of 20 prompts I provided. Some students wrote narratives, while others chose poetry.”

A third session was led by Susan Gabel and Kaleen Heller from Calm Mind Counseling Center in Westchester. Gabel, a licensed clinical and professional counselor, walked students through a stress-management inventory and provided them with a variety of coping skills.

“One of our goals was to attune students to recognize stress and to reflect on the best means to address it,” said Gabel. “There are a number of ways to do this. I believe the students appreciated the discussion. They were very engaging.”

“I liked Wellness Friday because it allowed me to release some stress,” said Westchester freshman Makayla Haynes. “It’s been hard starting at a new school, but this made me feel more at ease.”

“It was a day to relax and just connect with yourself,” added Westchester freshman Naomi Matthews. “My favorite part was the journaling session, as it really set off a lot of positive energy in my mind.”

“What struck me most is that students were willing to show up and stretch themselves emotionally and physically in new ways,” said Diane Palumbo, St. Joseph counselor.  “Now, more than ever, this is so needed, being isolated for nearly a year.  I sincerely hope that Wellness Friday continues on a regular basis.”