Focus on Middle School Health & Wellness

The physical and emotional wellbeing of our Class 4-7 students was the focus of an informative Middle School Health & Wellness Panel, presented virtually on November 17.

“Welcome Middle School families,” said Mary Rafferty, the division head, noting that this well-received event first launched in 2019. “If you do something once at Chapin, it becomes a tradition!” she declared with a smile.

Emphasizing Chapin’s focus on the whole child, including character development, service learning, academics and athletics, Ms. Rafferty also acknowledged the unanticipated challenges the pandemic has caused. “A lot has happened in the world since last year,” she said. “How can we as adults help our students navigate these times?”

To help answer this vital question, five participating faculty members – Sarah Cyr-Mutty, M.Ed., Middle and Upper School Health Educator; Nick DePaola, Head of Middle School Physical Education; Elana Dumont, Psy.D., Middle School Counselor and Health Educator; Trude Goodman; Director of Middle School Academic Technology; and Nadia Murray Goodman, Middle School Learning Specialist and Equity Coordinator – offered helpful overviews of their particular areas of expertise.

The knowledgeable panelists, speaking warmly from their Zoom boxes, detailed new initiatives in the essential areas of Health, Counseling, Technology, Physical Education and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). They also answered previously submitted questions from parents.

“All Chapin students have the right to lead healthy and affirming lives,” said Ms. Cyr-Mutty. She explained that her goal as a health educator is to equip young people with the tools they need to make informed choices regarding their personal wellness.

“We take a holistic approach,” added Dr. Dumont, mentioning that her students record their feelings in health journals. “Current events have fueled conversations in class,” she said, which continue at home.

Ms. Murray Goodman, the newly appointed Middle School Equity Coordinator, shared highlights from Chapin’s enhanced DEI work, which includes identity-centered affinity groups, lunchtime Equity Office drop-in hours, and revisions to the Middle School Handbook to incorporate an anonymous reporting system for DEI-related issues.

Emphasizing the Middle School’s priorities around digital citizenship, Trude Goodman discussed Chapin’s Responsible Use Policy (known as RUP), to which all students must adhere, and the risks of cyberbullying. “It’s important that students protect themselves online,” she stressed.

In Physical Education, Mr. DePaola told the parents, the goal is to keep students as active as possible. Recognizing that recent shut-downs and other restrictions have contributed to more sitting and less moving, he brings his students outside as much as possible to learn sports-specific skills, to spend time in the fresh air, and to have fun at Carl Schurz Park and Asphalt Green.

Mr. DePaola also showed the audience a photograph of the new Chapin gymnasium, which is rapidly nearing completion along with other Athletics, Arts, STEAM, and Health & Wellness spaces. “We are very excited!” he exclaimed.

Following each faculty member’s remarks, Ms. Rafferty read aloud a sampling of questions from parents. The questions, which were displayed on the screen, ran the gamut from the amount of sleep a Middle Schooler needs (9-10 hours a night) to coping with anxiety to how to handle lack of motivation during COVID.

“Validate your children’s experiences before trying to problem-solve,” suggested Dr. Dumont. “Don’t underestimate the power of your empathetic response. Then you can brainstorm creative solutions together.”

Ms. Rafferty said, “It’s so heartening to see how well our students are managing the pandemic even at 9, 10, 11 years old. Generally speaking, they are doing a great job.” Mr. DePaola agreed: “The resiliency of your children has been amazing.”

Parents also submitted questions that touched on common topics of adolescence such as friendship, puberty, sexuality, substance abuse, and coping mechanisms. Dr. Dumont explained that Middle Schoolers explore these areas in supportive, age-appropriate classes. “Comfort, reassurance and safety are our priorities,” she said.

Noting the current climate of uncertainty, Middle School Head Mary Rafferty remarked, “It takes a village in the best of times. During hard times, this is even more true.” We’re very fortunate to have the village that we do at Chapin