October is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is an important time to shine a light on stigmatized topics such as mental illness. Many mental illnesses emerge by teenage years so it is crucial to educate students on mental health and help maintain stability. Teachers can play a major role in this process and checking in with their students can help show that they care.
One teacher at St. John’s who does these mental health check-ins with their students is Ms. Leonard. She is a freshman and sophomore religion teacher. Every Monday she has her students write their highs and lows of the past week in their reflection journals. They have three minutes to write them down and then they have a sharing. Ms. Leonard thinks this is a good way to start off the week because it leaves the past week behind and gives a fresh start. She also likes this check in because it includes sharing good things, not just the bad. Another check-in she does is called “thumb checks.” When she does this, she asks all her students to close their eyes and if their week is going well, they give her a thumbs up. She makes sure to let her students know that if they do a thumbs down it means that they want her to check in on them. She will then reach out to this student.
Over her years of teaching, Ms. Leonard has learned that students learn better when they know that the teacher cares about their well-being. She not only thinks these check-ins are important because she cares about her students but it is also helpful for fostering a positive learning environment. It is always better for kids to be taught in a classroom with a teacher that embraces everything about them and their mental health, no matter what that may look like. For Ms. Leonard, making sure her students feel safe and comfortable allows them to learn better and flourish.
Another teacher who implements these check-ins in his classroom is Mr. Zacher. He is a US History and AP Euro teacher. Every other Wednesday Mr. Zacher posts a prompt on the board and has his students write down their answers. These prompts range from discussing something positive they experienced that week, a challenge they overcame, or simply giving a friend a compliment. Like Ms. Leonard, he focuses on the positive as well as the negative. Everyone in the class is given an opportunity to share as much as they feel comfortable with but it is not required.
Mr. Zacher was inspired to start doing these shares by the discussion circles that they began to do in the faculty meetings last year. Mr. Zacher knows that the pandemic has been a very stressful time for both kids and adults and he thinks that it is important to see how everyone is doing outside of the academic setting. He sees these shares as an investment in the classroom community. He believes it is important for teachers to check in with their students in order to connect with them on a deeper level. This will in turn help with teaching and just make the classroom a happier environment for everybody.
These mental health check-ins are a very valuable tool that teachers can implement in their classroom to foster community and a sense of safety. Knowing that their teachers care about their mental health can really make a difference in a student’s life.
Choir implements Wednesday-Zen Day
by Mia Graham
To highlight the challenges students may be facing during this time, St. John’s is dedicating a week to focusing on the mental health of students by providing seminars and new strategies to provide support to all students during this time. During this mental health awareness week, students highlighted specific classes that gave them a little bit of stress relief in their school day.
A class that was mentioned frequently by students in all grade levels was chorus. Mrs. Fernandez, the chorus teacher, started a day called Zen Day that occurs every Wednesday. Zen day began four years ago by Fernadez and former strings teacher, Mr. Scott Douglass. Fernandez said, “We started by calling it mediation Monday but I wanted to make it happen on Wednesdays since I always found myself stressed out by the shorter class periods. So, we started Wednesday-Zen Day and the rest is history!”
Bridie Shaffer ‘23 has taken chorus since her freshman year and believes that this day is a very important and positive part to her week. Shaffer described Wednesday-Zen Day:
Immediately when walking into the classroom the lights are dimmed and calm music is playing which automatically relieves some of the stress I am feeling. We are able to wear sweatshirts or sweatpants in the classroom on Wednesday’s so we can feel comfortable and relaxed.
Bridie mentioned that chorus is one of her favorite classes that she takes, and the overall class is a comfortable and fun environment to be a part of.
Scarlett Kiss ‘23 also shared about her experience in chorus. “I absolutely love zen day! For me, I need that break during the day to just pause, breathe and relax. It truly is the thing I look forward to all week,” Kiss said.
About the overall class she said, “Chorus has been my favorite class since freshman year all thanks to the wonderful chorus teacher, Mrs. Fernandez! She is an amazing human who truly makes my day and always knows how to put a smile on my face.” Kiss also really enjoys Throwback Thursday where the class sings songs from prior years. Her favorite song is “The Hippo Song”, which is also Mr. Mancabelli’s favorite song as well!
Riley Langan ‘22 has taken chorus for all four years at St. John’s. Langan has always really enjoyed the class. Langan said, “I love Zen day because it is a really nice break. A lot of my other classes try to cram in the same amount of material even given the shorter schedule, but on Wednesday’s in this class it’s nice not to have to cram it all in. We get a lot of work done after the zen part of class and after you feel productive and much better for the rest of the day.”