York Country Day School Prepares Students to Choose a Joyful Life

York Country Day’s focus on wellness is about developing habits of mind.

Written by: Anthony Machinski,  Our York Media
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(Molly Wertz, York Country Day School’s advisor for the peer mediation program, leads a group of students through a discussion. Wellness is one of York Country Day School’s signature programs. (Photo by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media))

York Country Day School’s rigorous learning environment molds students academically, but an added emphasis on student wellness rounds them out emotionally – setting students up for success in the classroom and beyond.

In 2018, the school implemented wellness as one of its signature programs and reinforced this commitment by hiring Elizabeth Trump as a Coordinator of Student Wellness.

“Our teachers prepare them well with the academic skills,” she says. “But for me, my goal is to make sure students have the confidence to face whatever life throws at them.”

Students are under a lot of pressure to do well, she says, but if they don’t have the tools to face emotional challenges, it’s hard to be successful in the classroom.

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(Elizabeth Trump, York Country Day School’s Coordinator of Student Wellness, helps students face emotional challenges to better prepare them for coursework in the classroom. (Photo by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media))

 

Normalizing stress and reaction

York Country Day School has always made student wellness a priority, but the school took proactive steps in addressing wellness to help students normalize stress and retool how they react to it.

“Sometimes students feel if they’re struggling, something’s wrong,” Trump says. “That’s just not the case. If they’re stressed, we want them to realize that it’s just something difficult now and they can ask themselves how they can address it.”

Trump equips students each month with different wellness initiatives. The topics are skill-based techniques such as value-based decision making and identity development that give students the confidence to navigate tough situations.

“These skills allow children to focus on where they have control,” Trump says. “We want them to accept what’s going on now, to remain calm, and use the skills necessary to advance through adversity.”

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(Reminders of student wellness, like this board in Molly Wertz’s classroom, can be found across York Country Day School. (Photo by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media))

Trusting connections

Students receive support in their emotional journey through advisors at the school. Advisors serve as connectors to overall wellness goals, making sure the mental health initiatives are reinforced on a regular schedule.

It’s a process that is part of York Country Day’s fabric. The advisors become confidants and advocates for the students.

“You make this connection, and they trust you,” says Molly Wertz, the school’s advisor for the peer mediation program. “We meet the needs of the whole child, not just the 50 minutes they’re in the classroom. That way, when they leave, they’re a well-rounded student who can meet academic challenges in a healthy way.”

 

 

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(While teachers prepare students well with the academic skills, Elizabeth Trump says her goal is to make sure students “have the confidence to face whatever life throws at them.” (Photos by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media))

Transformative practices

York Country Day School prepares students to problem solve on their own.

When two (or more) students experience a disagreement, they can use peer mediation to solve the conflict. This type of conflict resolution is available in the Upper School and is transitioning into the Middle School through intentional training and meaningful discussions. Students acquire the skills to express their feelings in a respectful manner directly to the other student involved in the disagreement.

Restorative Justice is another way in which York Country Day School helps students navigate decisions not in line with the code of conduct. Through Honor Council, community members can work to repair the harm caused and make amends.

“We want to equip our students with the tools to resolve interpersonal conflicts through empathy,” Wertz says. “If adults used restorative justice, we’d be in so much better of a place.”

The school handles stress management through smaller, more holistic methods. Some advisors work with students on a gratitude journal. Others use mindfulness to help children slow down, assess the situation, and work to find a remedy.

“We want children to trust in their own skills,” Trump says. “We want them to see that the struggle is temporary and to keep that confidence in themselves to get out of it.”

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(The school uses a variety of practices, like Restorative Justice, to help students navigate decisions. “We want to equip our students with the tools to resolve interpersonal conflicts,” Molly Wertz says. “If adults used restorative justice, we’d be in so much better of a place.” (Photo by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media))