Life Lessons: Sturgis Wellness Class Teaches Students Life Skills

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After a Wellness game at Sturgis West, freshman Ben Poepsei, left, gives a congratulatory handshake to a team member.

[Editor’s Note: Originally published in The Barnstable Patriot November 25, 2015. Reprinted here with permission of Mary Jo Wheatley, Reporter and Rohma Abbas, Patriot Editor]

By Mary Jo Wheatley news@barnstablepatriot.com

It’s another day at Sturgis East Annex.

Colorful backpacks, along with water bottles, shoes, sneakers and jackets, are haphazardly lined up against a wall. Right next to this random collection of clothing and equipment is a whiteboard with the words, “Welcome – Come in! Today we are discussing the importance of a good night’s sleep.”

Once inside, you realize it’s not your typical high school classroom. Strings of soft white lights are hanging from the wall. Relaxing music with soothing nature sounds is playing in the background. “PhysioBalls” in pink, purple and black are balanced in a corner waiting for their next round of use. Posters, one explaining the human muscular system, another titled “Getting to Know and Love Your Brain,” and a third, describing how the human body reacts to stress, are hanging on the wall.

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Diane Kovanda, Wellness Instructor – Sturgis East

Students are lying on mats writing answers in their journals to instructor Diane Kovanda’s questions, “How much sleep do you get? How much sleep do you think teens need? What disrupts your sleep?”

This scene in Kovanda’s classroom is part of Sturgis Charter Public School’s Wellness course, instituted four years ago after discussions and surveys with guidance counselors, administrators, teachers, students and other Sturgis community members. Rising student stress was a common thread from these discussions, and administrators decided it needed to be addressed.

Paul Marble, associate director of Sturgis Charter Public School, remembers that solutions created to combat stress took many forms that year. One idea was to build a class program that would not add stress to a jam-packed schedule, but instead would help students deal with stress.

Now, with the collaboration and contribution of many, what has evolved is the current “Wellness” program that supports the school’s mission of a lifelong learner who is balanced intellectually, physically and emotionally.

Brij Anand, Wellness Instructor - Sturgis West

Brij Anand, Wellness Instructor – Sturgis West

Kovanda, a registered yoga teacher with a master of education degree focusing on stress resilience, and Brij Anand, a physical education teacher and Wellness director at Sturgis West campus, are part of a four-teacher Wellness team. Each teacher meets with students every seventh school day and uses similar and shared techniques, such as team building games, yoga-based exercises, physical activities and reflective classroom discussions to reach their school’s mission.

These claasroom games are part of the curriculum, but there’s more than meets the eye with a game called “Key Punch.” This interactive game is active and fun but it also fosters team building, communication and creative problem solving.

Wellness Patriot 3Students take to “Key Punch” unaware of the lifelong skills they are learning. It’s not until Anand’s debriefing that the learning part kicks in.

“You guys talked to one another.” “Discussion is really important. It’s something you have to do when you work in a group.” Anand went on to ask his students, “How do you get better?” Students were next discussing the power and success of practicing and trying different solutions.

Neither Sturgis East nor West have traditional gymnasium facilities but Marble explained that by using local athletic fields, skating at HYCC, playing Frisbee at the Hyannis Town Green and walking to different beaches, the lack of gym facilities “has turned limitations into opportunities. … It helps kids to recognize that the whole world is a place where you can develop wellness strategies as opposed to only in a gym.”

Patriot IMG_1864 copyOn a walk, it didn’t take long for Kovanda’s students to see the swing set and jungle gym at Veterans’ Park Beach in Hyannis. “Can we use the swings?” one student asked. Another student smiled as she moved backward and forward on a swing: “I miss recess and this is just like recess.”

Kovanda knows that often what is missing from a high school experience is the chance to have kid-like playtime along with creativity and joy. She even got into the act by playing on one of the swings.

On the return walk to school, several students were talking about their adventure. Tenth grader Tiana Smith added her slant: “I thought it was a really cool form of meditation. Our minds are focused on things other than school and it’s just nice relaxation.” Smith’s classmate, Elizabeth Baker, took another approach: “It gets me to connect with nature which is something I don’t do in my free time.”

Zoe Neal, a senior at Sturgis East, addressed the value of adding Wellness to the curriculum from the student perspective: “Wellness isn’t just a class that’s teaching us this certain curriculum. It doesn’t feel like that. Wellness, to us, is teaching us how to make ourselves more positive, better and basically happier. That’s what it’s all about.”

 

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