Making Space for Wellness

Making Space for Wellness
At Roland Park Country School, we want our students to live healthy and balanced lives; in fact, it’s one of our core values. This starts with an academic program that challenges and engages our girls, while allowing them to be children and teenagers. But wellness goes beyond the student workload and through intentional programming at every grade level, student-led initiatives, and resources for parents and guardians, we make sure that every student has a strong social-emotional support system to help them be healthy and well.
To support this effort, a new wellness suite was recently constructed on the RPCS campus, with offices for several members of the Student Services team, including the Director of Counseling, counselors at each division level,  and the counseling intern, as well as the Director of Leadership and Entrepreneurship. The inviting offices are spacious enough for the counselors to hold classes, but are also comfortable for private meetings with students. Student artwork decorates the suite and a mindfulness wall in the cheery hallway displays several take-one cards for students, offering tips on wellness topics including desk stretches and breathing techniques. Slips are also available in the wellness suite for students to confidentially request one-on-one meetings with a counselor. “This is a space that students can access at all times,” said Makeda King-Smith, Upper School Counselor. “It’s so important to help students with stress and anxiety as early as we can.”
Wellness Programming for Students and Parents
Wellness is also incorporated into the curriculum for all students. “We have so much class time built in for life skills at every grade,” said Carolyn Parker, the Director of Counseling. For example, at the beginning of the school year, Lower School Counselor Renee Best tailored her classroom guidance lessons on topics that both parents and teachers identified where students could use some help. One topic was conflict resolution, so Renee has shared some techniques and tools the Lower School students can use to solve problems in social situations. She also helps lead monthly units about puberty in the Lower School science classes. “We make wellness a priority and work every day to be proactive, not reactive,” said Renee. 
In grades 6-8, students take Life Skills class on topics including organization, time management, puberty and their bodies, and healthy friendships and relationships. Parents are encouraged to be involved in these discussions at home as well. These courses aim to help our students become comfortable with who they are in the formative Middle School years.
“Another big piece of wellness for our students is the idea of not fearing failure,” said Verna Mayo, Head of the Middle School. “We want our girls to know that they should always try their best, but that it’s actually good to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Additional programming includes study skills for fifth graders and an Issues classes in ninth grade that covers topics ranging from depression and anxiety to self-care, dating and sex. RPCS also offers several wellness events for parents and guardians at every division level throughout the year, including talks about sexual education and drugs and alcohol, book discussions, and lectures with experts in childhood and adolescent wellness.
Wellness practices and activities are encouraged outside of the classrooms as well. Students and parents are encouraged to make sure there is a balance of homework and down time after school. And the benefits of physical activity are also promoted among all of our students. In fact, more than 80 percent of the Middle School students participated in a fall sport this year.
Student-Led Wellness Initiatives
Our students are also leading wellness initiatives themselves. The Peer Health program at RPCS is comprised of 86 students in grades 10-12 who teach social-emotional and wellness classes in the fifth, eighth and ninth grade classes at RPCS, fifth grade at Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School, and fifth grade at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School, with students from the Gilman School.
The purpose of peer health is to create a stronger community within RPCS and beyond and help students deal with all of the challenges they face by giving them an opportunity to talk to and learn from their classmates. For example, at the beginning of the school year, the entire ninth grade takes four peer health classes on friendships, alcohol and drugs, relationships and sexual assault and the students appreciate the openness and honesty from their peer health advisors.
“My favorite thing about being in peer health is that I have learned to never judge a book by its cover because you never know what someone is going through,” said peer health advisor Brylen Hatcher, 2020. “ I love that I am able to teach different schools and grades and that the kids are willing to ask questions. It really warms my heart to know that what we do at this school means a lot to others.”
“The most amazing thing about peer health is that high school students volunteer to learn extra training about relationships, diversity and drugs and alcohol so that they can give back to the RPCS community and beyond,” said Carolyn. “Peer health advisors find so much joy from doing something hands-on, that it’s really beneficial for everyone.” The Middle School students also make reaching out to others a priority and often suggest service projects to pursue, which are organized at every grade level.
Looking Ahead
Next spring, a new curriculum on social media wellness will be piloted for the fifth graders and the sexual education curriculum is being revamped across the entire school. Additionally, the College Counseling and Wellness departments have partnered to offer a new course to juniors and seniors which addresses topics related to the college admission and application process and the transition from RPCS to college. This course provides a space in the school day for supported work time on college applications, expert advice from college administrators, guidance on effectively managing stress and handling disappointment in the process, and conversations about the excitement and challenges of navigating life as a college student. Finally, students throughout every grade will participate in either wellness days or weeks in the coming year, where they can learn more ways to stay healthy both in and out of school. And every day, they have the support of our faculty and staff to lead healthy and balanced lives.