Did you know that for students in grades six through twelve, depression, stress and anxiety are the most frequently cited obstacles to learning?
That’s according to a report by YouthTruth, a nonprofit organization that surveys K-12 students and families for schools and school districts.
At Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange, N.J., school leaders are working to address student mental health and using data to measure the impact of their programs.
“I became an educator because the schools I attended created the conditions for my growth and learning,” said Assistant Headmaster James Incardona, Ph.D. “Now it saddens and frustrates me that a generation of students find school itself to be a source of anxiety.”
The initiative at Seton Hall Prep is designed to strengthen relationships between teachers and students and mitigate student anxiety. During a regular segment of the school week, students and teachers come together for mindfulness and health activities. Students choose the activity that most appeals to them — board games, gardening, yoga, prayer to name a few — and they receive no grades or homework.
These enrichment sessions offer students an opportunity to “get off the hamster wheel” of continuous instruction to experience a vital exchange of life wisdom and to explore their own experiences.
To measure the success of the program, the school collaborated with two faculty members from School Psychology programs at St. Elizabeth University and Montclair State University to develop a mood survey administered to students before and after each activity.
The survey revealed a statistically significant change in mood levels on average from participation in all enrichment activities measured collectively.
In addition to measuring changes in mood, the survey also looked at what activities had the greatest impact. Activities that involved an informal conversation between a teacher and students resulted in the highest improvement in mood, followed closely by physical activities and those involving music.
Seton Hall Prep embarked on the mental health initiative under MSA’s Sustaining Excellence protocol, which provides the opportunity to engage in action research to address a complex problem calling for a multi-pronged approach.
The protocol may be used for high performing schools that seek reaccreditation and wish to continue to excel.
For a deeper dive into the initiative at Seton Hall and other strategies to address student mental health, join Middle States at 10 a.m. EST on April 26 for a live conversation with Incardona and Camille Banks-Lee, a psychotherapist, former middle school teacher and administrator who also serves on the board of Fordham Preparatory.