At the beginning of the academic year, Bush Middle School Dean of Students Jessica Osorio asked Middle School students the question, “What do you think wellness means?”
“It’s about wholeness. It’s about how to see your wholeness and protect that in the world,” Jessica said. “I don’t remember what student said this, but I love the way they said it because it feels so true.”
Led by Middle School Wellness Teacher Sarah Rose Olson, and supported by Jessica, Middle School Director Jose Leonor, and Wellness Coordinator Happy Salinas-Santos, the wellness curriculum was reenvisioned with a more holistic and timely approach with all Middle School students now taking wellness once a week – a shift from previous years.
“Our updated wellness curriculum aims to give students the skills to navigate the multilayered experience of adolescence in empowered and thoughtful ways. Our five units - brain science and mindfulness, healthy relationships and social emotional learning, identity and advocacy, sexuality education, and media studies - are designed to give students space to talk about aspects of their lives that might not always come up in other classes. We believe that it is just as important to set students up for success in these areas as academic ones,” says Sarah. Jessica, who teaches half of the Eighth Grade Wellness, explained that students in Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade are all taught these same units in the same order.
“Every grade is discussing the same topics, but lessons are different for each grade,” Jessica said. “Some days all three grades are doing the same curriculum because it does feel appropriate and I think those days are super special. Every kid has wellness once a week, so on some weeks you can say every single kid in the Middle School had the same conversation, and that’s pretty cool.”
A major focal point in the curriculum has been teaching through the diversity, equity, and inclusion lens and the important role it plays in wellness, in particular the practice and work on exploring yourself. Jessica said while the DEI work can carry a heavy connotation, it can also be deeply empowering and joyful.
“When we are all in a classroom together and we’re all learning the same material, it’s easy to have this feeling that the sixteen of us in the room are reading the same book, the same text, and arriving at similar ideas. But even if we are all reading the same material, each one of us is actually having a completely different experience because we come to the classroom with different identities, experiences, cultures, and values. And we experience everything through those unique lenses. So really, even if we’re all reading the same text, we can each have sixteen radically different takeaways,” Jessica said. “I feel like this idea is really at the core of our wellness curriculum; understanding your own perspective and what impacts the way you see the world. And in doing that, understanding that each person you interact with, at school and beyond, has an equally complex perspective, identity, and set of experiences. A sense of your own perspective and a curiosity about others’ allows you to form more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling relationships.”
Some examples of the DEI work in the Middle School have included:
During the identity and advocacy unit, students in all three grades explored the various layers of their own culture through the “culture tree” from Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Students explored their own surface culture (the leaves), mid-culture (the trunk), and deep culture (the roots), reflecting on their values and how they manifest in their daily life at school and beyond.
Sixth Grade students created identity art body maps. They learned the difference between implicit and explicit bias, upstanding and bystanding, and the ways we can all be change makers in the world.
Jessica said throughout this year she’s seen students get to know themselves better. One outlet has been through the student-led and born affinity groups where students tell their own stories, learn about other's stories, and help shape the Middle School.
“Our goal for our current and future students is to not only help students thrive right now, but also to help them feel prepared to protect their wellness moving into high school,” Sarah said. “ We would love to see more opportunities for peer-to-peer wellness education and support amongst the Middle School students and also further integration of wellness topics into their other academic classes.
-by Mary Albl, Communications Manager