Life at Miss Hall’sJan 3, 2024

updated Jan 26, 2024

Investing in Wellness

Preparing to be their best selves

The image of a well-rounded student, ironically, hasn’t always included wellness. A heightened awareness of student wellbeing at MHS hopes to change that perception.

The appointment of a Dean of Wellness, a reimagining of the Advising Program, and more time for social-emotional learning (SEL) are just some of the ways that work is taking shape this year at Miss Hall’s.

The Health and Wellness Team has also grown, an annual day devoted to wellness is expanding to a weeklong focus, and a recent assessment found overall wellbeing among MHS students comparatively stronger than in U.S. high schools in general.

Dean of Wellness Kristen Milano

“The initiatives we are taking highlight the importance we place on student wellness and social-emotional learning,” explains Kristen Milano, who was appointed in July as the School’s inaugural Dean of Wellness. “They also demonstrate a commitment to student development and learning in all domains, inside and outside of the classroom, because research shows us that students who feel healthy, safe, and supported, ultimately, are students who succeed.”

The Dean of Wellness position — part of the School’s Leadership Team — was created in response to post-COVID challenges schools and other institutions are facing. These include soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families during the pandemic, so much so that the American Academy for Pediatrics and other professional organizations declared a national emergency for child mental health in 2021. Culturally, there has also been growing awareness of the importance of wellness.

“We felt it was timely to invest additional resources in student mental health and wellness,” said Head of School Julia Heaton. “By elevating this position to the senior Leadership Team, we also advance our strategic goal of a joyful, connected, and holistic student experience.”

Ms. Milano, who joined MHS in 2021 as Director of Health and Wellness, was a logical choice for the position. Her new role includes overseeing all aspects of student health and collaborating with the Deans and other professionals to design and deliver social-emotional learning and to reimagine the School’s Advising program.

“Long-term, we want to use data and best practices to inform development of school-wide programming in wellness,” Ms. Milano adds. “With the Leadership Team, we are considering how wellness is and should be integrated into the culture, and we are envisioning steps to best equip our students with the skills they need to thrive.”

Several Initiatives Underway

Among the first initiatives has been reimagining the Advising Program, long an MHS strong point in fostering connections among students, their peers, and adults.

Each Miss Hall’s student has an advisor available as a personal and academic counselor, and who serves as a liaison with other faculty members, school administrators, and the student’s family. Indeed, the advisor is often among a student’s strongest advocates and is a key member of their Personal Team.

Academic Coordinator/Advising Coordinator Rebecca Cook Dubin P’24

This summer, longtime MHS English Teacher Rebecca Cook-Dubin P’24 stepped into the roles of Academic Coordinator and Advising Coordinator. In her advising role, Ms. Cook-Dubin provides guidance and resources, including professional development, to Advisors, while also serving as a point-person for and a regular connection to advisors.

“The goal is for advisors to feel empowered to do what they do best, which is supporting students,” explains Ms. Milano. “And, to do that best, advisors themselves need to feel supported and that they have the resources they need to connect with students.”

Ms. Cook-Dubin’s work includes supporting ways in which weekly Advisor meetings can foster social-emotional learning, building on this year’s Student Life theme of “Me, You, Us.” A riff on the MHS school motto Meus Honor Stat (Latin for My Honor Stands), the theme is an exploration of who each of us is as an individual, how we interact with others, and how we work together to maintain an inclusive community.

New “Superblocks,” 90-minute windows in the academic schedule, provide extended opportunities monthly to tackle SEL on schoolwide and classwide levels.

The Health and Wellness team also collaborated with Horizons faculty to expand weekly social-emotional learning offered during 9th grade Horizons programming. That curriculum now includes 19 lessons based on an integrated health model that features physical, mental, and social-emotional components, including communication skills, healthy relationships, social media, sexuality education and reproduction, substance use and abuse, body image, and other topics.

Also new this year, the annual Mental Health Summit — a day focused on learning about mental wellness — has been expanded to Wellness Week. “The aim is for students to engage in opportunities that are not ‘one-and-done,’ but reinforced throughout the week,” Ms. Milano explains.

We want students taking full advantage of academic opportunities to grow intellectually. We also want them to take advantage of opportunities to grow personally and interpersonally.

Dean of Wellness

To support these initiatives, the Health and Wellness team has grown to four nurses and two counselors, providing capacity to handle day-to-day student needs and present the SEL curriculum. All to say, the School prioritizes student wellness, likely not surprising to those familiar with the student-centered approach long a hallmark at MHS. It has been successful.

Student Wellbeing Strong

Last Spring, the School partnered with the organization Authentic Connections to administer the High Achieving Schools Survey to MHS students. Most students — 92%! — participated in the anonymous survey, which gathered data on values, empathy and kindness, depression and anxiety, substance use, and relationships with family, friends, and school adults.

The goal was to learn more about the preoccupations and concerns of students and, accordingly, inform MHS initiatives. The survey also provided insight into the state of health and wellness among MHS students. Ms. Milano’s team is working to present findings to the MHS community, but overall, results were positive.

“Our student wellbeing is strong, compared to high schools on average and other schools across the U.S.” she notes. “Overall, our students feel connected to the community — to adults and peers — and that is something we really strive for, so it is great to have that feedback.”

Areas to work on include instances where students feel less connected. “That includes students from underrepresented backgrounds and partnering with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team to make sure we have appropriate supports in place so that all students feel that same positive connection to the School,” Ms. Milano adds.

There is also room to improve connections with parents and families. “It’s about being on the same page and having families understand how we approach things, so families can best support students, and they can communicate to us, so we can best support their student,” she adds.

(2023 MHS Mental Health Summit Keynote Speaker Ysabel Garcia, of Estoy Aquí LLC)

All the initiatives, Ms. Milano continues, reflect the School’s hopes for the Miss Hall’s graduate. “Of course we want students taking full advantage of academic opportunities to grow intellectually, but we also want them to take advantage of opportunities to grow personally and interpersonally, so they can be the contributing global citizens we want them to become,” she says.

In other words, wellness and social-emotional learning are underpinnings of student success — not only while at Miss Hall’s, but also setting them up for success post-MHS. Foregrounding that work recognizes its importance.

“It’s an acknowledgement that learning doesn’t stop outside of the classroom, and that there are certain emotional and social skills a student needs to learn along with academics,” Ms. Milano adds. “It’s also an acknowledgement that it needs to be integrated into the daily life of our school and culture, and that these are skills that will allow students to thrive academically, socially, emotionally, in college, and in jobs.”

Student Fun — Fall 2023

Fall 2023 student scenes from the campus