On a recent Friday, bizarre things were happening at Briarcliff Middle School: science teacher Julie Gallagher joined principal Susan Howard to teach baking, Spanish teacher Johanna Foster taught dancing, and math teacher Austin Perry led a hike outdoors.
This was all part of Wellness Day – an initiative which began 17 years ago and is still going strong at the school.
During Wellness Day, students learn about many aspects of health and wellness by rotating though a series of activities offered at each grade level.
According to Ms. Howard, students began the day by bringing in one recyclable item, as the day was also about wellness for the planet. Everyone turned their container into a planter and added seeds.
“The students took them home to nurture,” Ms. Howard said. “The PTA provided the seeds and also quite a bit of the supplies.”
“We had so many fun activities,” she said. “There was bracelet-making, mindful coloring, sidewalk chalk art and painting kindness rocks, to name a few.”
Students also spent time outdoor, adding plants to the school garden, known as Academia.
Wellness Day originally began as a Blue-Ribbon celebration, back in 2005.
“Superintendent Dr. Jim Kaishian was the principal when we won the Blue-Ribbon award, in 2005. I had just joined the school that September,” Ms. Howard said. “We held a special day to celebrate all the ways we learn in honor of the Blue Ribbon. The following year, we continued and added our focus on Wellness.”
For the past few years, Wellness Day was a little different. During the shutdown, it was completely virtual. Last year there were live workshops for the students in school, and the remote students attended virtually.
“This year everyone was in the building, which was nice,” Ms. Howard said.
While the majority of activities were organized and run by staff, there were some parents who came in to present. These included a doctor who spoke about the importance of sleep, a jewelry designer who guided students in creating wearable art from recycled materials, a mindfulness session with a wellness coach, and a genealogy and local history expert that told students about important historical figures in Briarcliff and how to create their own family trees.
“In previous years we had more outside presenters come visit,” Ms. Howard said. “But it worked out very well this year. The students were really engaged. Wellness Day last the entire day, including lunch. In the cafeteria, our food services manager offered a soup-making demonstration. Students got see how to make carrot soup and to sample it.”
Ms. Howard hopes that students can see that they can learn in a variety of ways and that learning happens around them all the time.
“I also hope they learn to take care of themselves and the planet. Learning how to do those things is an essential part of education – it is key to their success and happiness in the future. For example, when we planted in the garden, we talked about sustainability and protecting the earth. It was a nice opportunity for students to see that wellness affects all of us. The day turned out to be wonderful!”