Looking Back: A semester of Friday wellness days

At MVHS, we tend to get excited over quite small things – like when we get free stress balls, or when we get to meditate in Mythology class. These activities add a bright touch of happiness to our repetitive lives. But for Physiology students, they get to try activities like this every week. Physiology Friday wellness activities are student-led stress-relieving activities, ranging from creating colorful origami to petting dogs.

Meditation is an excellent example of a wellness activity (Flickr/Silversea)
Meditation is an excellent example of a wellness activity (Flickr/Silversea)

What’s the Point?

So in an academically focused school like MVHS, why do Physiology teachers focus so heavily on wellness? Lora Lerner, a teacher who has taught Physiology for several years at Monta Vista, explains her perspective on this.

“Ideally, by seeing these different things every week, you’re seeing a nice variety of things that other people are passionate about, and things that, you know, perhaps you could consider incorporating into your life,” Lerner said. ”Creative things to active things, you know, social emotional touchy-feely things. If nothing else, maybe [students] get a little break on Fridays.”

According to Lerner, Friday wellness days allow students to see what their classmates enjoy doing, encouraging an atmosphere of collaboration-based learning. Additionally, these wellness day activities may help reduce stress and create a more comfortable classroom environment.

Joyce Chen, a senior in Ms. Smith’s Physiology class, explains how these activities help her relieve stress:

“It’s always in a different way but …I do feel destressed because..through socializing with people and just talking with people, I can just get some stuff out,” Chen said. “Or its just the fact that I know that I just have a class period where I can dedicate time to myself and feeling better.”

Senior Joyce Chen is a Physiology student at MVHS. Photo by Bhavna Sud.
Senior Joyce Chen is a Physiology student at MVHS. Photo by Bhavna Sud.

 

The Scientific Benefits

 

Still, sacrificing every Friday is a difficult decision for a teacher to make. These Friday wellness activities must have a larger effect than just encouraging peer learning and reducing stress. A more scientific benefit is that activities like these encourage students to be more interested and motivated in a class, an idea that is evident in workplace wellness programs as well.

 

A study by the Environmental Intelligence Unit shows that wellness programs at work, which include group activities, guided meditation and healthy food options, increase an employee’s productivity and their engagement with a company. According to the study, 67 percent of employees believe that participation in work-offered wellness programs increased their engagement in their employer’s mission and goals, and 89 percent believe this improved their overall happiness and well-being.

67 percent of employees believe that participation in work-offered wellness programs increased their engagement in their employer’s mission and goals (The Economist)
67 percent of employees believe that participation in work-offered wellness programs increased their engagement in their employer’s mission and goals (The Economist)

For Chen, her Friday wellness presentation definitely made her more engaged in the class, as it showed her how she could apply what she was learning to her own life.

 

“Learning about the Physiological aspects, like … [the] certain chemical that gets rid of stress hormones…I thought that was cool because we feel stressed and we never think about what’s physiologically happening and what can we do to combat that,” she said. “Learning about that has helped me think about ways that I can deal with it on a daily basis too.”

 

The Students Become the Teachers

 

What differentiates most wellness programs from those in Physiology is that MV wellness programs are student-taught, so that students feel more involved in the activities. According to Lerner, this is one of the most important advantages of Friday wellness days.

 

“[Students] don’t just run an activity; they actually teach people … why that activity contributes to their wellness and then they actually run the activity,” Lerner said. “It’s sort of turned into a bigger sort of assignment project thing, where they get to sort of run the class that day.”

 

By teaching the class about the science behind each wellness activity before doing the activity, Lerner feels that students may be more inclined to take the activity seriously. Additionally, having the lessons be student-run makes students more interested in participating as well. Student-taught wellness programs are extremely effective because they get students involved in promoting their own wellness.

 

Chen points out another aspect of student-teaching that she finds especially beneficial: the idea that one can continue learning outside of class.

 

“It’s kind of fun learning about [the activity], especially [because] everyone knows each other in our Physio class, so it’s something you can talk to them about outside of class too,” she said. “There’s a socialization aspect of it that’s different from just a teacher teaching it.”

 

Monta Vista is one of the most stressful schools in California. With a performance of over 90 percent on both mathematics and english state exit exams, it is clear that it is a place where academic success is considered of paramount importance. However, in the process of focusing on academics, students also tend to become stressed and focus more on grades than the content they are learning. Friday wellness activities are a step towards solving this problem. Not only do they help reduce stress and make students more comfortable, but they also make students more engaged in the class itself.