Life at Miss Hall’sJan 3, 2022
— updated Jan 11, 2022
Caring for the Whole Student
Health and Wellness Center Comes to Life
Bringing every student back to campus after a year of hybrid and online learning, while still in the midst of a global pandemic, is no small task.
Throw in taking care of the everyday wellness of nearly 300 students and adults, and that task becomes one tall order. But — we are doing it! On the front lines of the effort is the new Health and Wellness Center, a doubling-down on student wellness.
Bringing direction to this focus is Kristen Milano, who joined the School this summer in the newly created role of Director of Health and Wellness. Ms. Milano is chief advocate for making sure students have the support needed to be successful.
“More and more, we are seeing the move to an integrated health model,” says Ms. Milano. “It’s not just physical health, but also mental health and social-emotional health, especially for teens and the crucial time of development they are in. If a student is struggling with academics, that is not happening in isolation. Let’s look at all of what is going on, so that we can support a student to be their best self.”
The Health and Wellness Center’s to-do list is multifaceted. A top priority has been a solid plan for COVID safety and, as always, community health. Fortunately, there was a framework in place that helped MHS navigate the 2020-21 school year during the height of the pandemic.
The MHS Common Good Guidelines — shared behaviors adopted for 2020-21 — are still in place. “They are the bedrock of health and safety in our community,” Ms. Milano explains. “We are constantly referring to them, and taking on that shared community responsibility is something that’s so vital to keeping our community safe.”
Some guidelines have been loosened this year. There are no more one-way hallways, for example, but core elements of the guidelines remain. Masks are worn indoors and in shared spaces. Community members monitor for and report potential COVID symptoms. Frequent hand-washing is urged, and sharing of personal items discouraged. Everyone is expected to follow the guidelines, even when off campus. And, community members gently remind others if the guidelines are not being followed.
“Our first priority is to keep the community safe,” Ms. Milano adds. “While doing that, we also want to make sure we don’t lose the aspects of our community that make it special." Her to-do list includes a health and wellness survey to learn more about student needs — what’s going great and what they are struggling with. That data will then inform schoolwide initiatives.
“One of our goals is raising awareness and engaging with students about what mental health means and what supports they need to be successful,” Ms. Milano says. In October, the Student Council and the Health and Wellness Team hosted mental health workshops to help students understand concerns such as anxiety and depression, learn about coping and self-care strategies, and know how and when to get help. A Mental Health Summit and awareness campaigns are in the works, and the Health and Wellness Center’s Horizons interns will help with that programming.
That partnership with students has been especially rewarding, Ms. Milano notes. “I am excited that students want to talk about these issues, because that peer-to-peer conversation is so formative,” she says.
While COVID safety and mental wellness are addressed, the School also continues building its health curriculum, especially for 9th- and 10th-graders, partnering with Horizons in that work. Ms. Milano is also planning opportunities for juniors and seniors to engage with experts.
Other crucial partners are the Student Life team — headed by Dean
of Student Life Cherèva McClellan and Director of Residential Life Christie Higuera — and each student’s Personal Team — trusted adults and fellow students they can turn to for advice and support.
Those connections are vital to student success, Ms. McClellan notes. “How we help students experience the ‘Miss Hall’s Magic’ begins with connection,” she explains. “We want students to feel connected to each other and to adults, and it’s a team approach.”
“We have systems in place to support a student when they are facing a challenge, whether academic, social, or physical,” she adds. “Being a small community, where everyone knows each other, we can do that in a really deliberate and holistic way.”
At the forefront of all of this is the Health and Wellness Center team, which includes nurses Lisa Loehr, Alison Phair, and Pam Gauthier — all seasoned practitioners. The Health and Wellness Center has regular hours, and a nurse is on call during non-scheduled hours.
“They are not just there to help with injuries or sickness, but they are also well versed in conversations with young adults about things like diet, sleeping, and healthy habits,” Ms. Milano adds.
School Counselor Abigail Ruble ’92 has also joined their ranks, succeeding Teresa Gentile. Counselors, including Ms. Milano, are available to students on a regular basis or for one-time meetings.
With Ms. Ruble on board, group sessions can be added for students who might be grappling with similar issues — grieving, divorce, and school stress. Read more about Ms. Ruble.
“I want students to think of the Center as a point of connection, with counselors and nurses who are easily available and approachable, not only if they are not feeling well, but even if they are just having a bad day or they are homesick,” Ms. Milano adds. “We want to help the students build their network of support around them.”
Ms. Milano herself brings roots in school counseling to her role. A certified school counselor, she came to MHS after eight years at a public school near Boston.
“I love working with teens and working with teen girls is a dream come true,” she says. “I loved being in a supportive role in my previous position, and I saw this role at MHS as helping teens look at life holistically and helping them to make decisions as they grow.”
Originally from Pittsfield, and a graduate of nearby Williams College, Ms. Milano was drawn back to the Berkshires in part for the opportunity at MHS, but also because she loves the area. “I thought it would be a great place to raise my child,” she says. Ms. Milano and her husband, Ken (who coaches the cross-country team), are the parents of a two-year-old daughter.
“What I love about Miss Hall’s is that the School pairs its actions with its philosophies,” she says. “It’s not only that we say we believe in these things, but also that actions back up those philosophies, whether Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion or health and wellness, and those are philosophies that match what I love about education.”