As the graduation tent rental company loads their final truckload of equipment from the Shipley Field and the campus Pond has gained one penny per recently graduated Dana Hall student, I open my computer to the master calendar of the Forum Program that the Health & Wellness Committee oversees at Dana Hall School. I scroll through the document that contains all the dates, discussion topics, external speakers, and the names of Dana Hall faculty and staff who commit time to teach, coordinate, and organize health and wellness curriculum for students in grades 5 through 12. I get excited and anxious at the thought of starting a new document for the upcoming school year. What Forum class will miss a session due to snow days or vacations? What if an external speaker cannot commit to teaching a topic? Are we addressing the correct topics? What are we forgetting? These are just a few of the many questions that run through my mind as I change the dates to reflect the upcoming school year and begin the matrix that helps dictate the year ahead. Thankfully, the teaching, coordinating, and organization of the Forum Program at Dana Hall School is a team effort.
Dana Hall students have Forum class once a week for 45 minutes in grades 5 through 12. In this class, students learn about an expanse of topics including sexual education, community service, diversity and inclusion, healthy relationships, drug and alcohol education, college preparation, social media responsibility, and mental health awareness, just to name a few. The topics covered are age appropriate and are even repeated at different grade levels. Occasionally, students remind me that they covered a certain topic in Middle School Forum. I inform them that, yes, the Forum curriculum does repeat important topics since students process the messages differently at different points in their adolescent development. What a student learns and processes about drugs and alcohol in 7th grade may be completely different from how she processes the same information as a 12th grader.
Many Forum classes ask for feedback to adjust and adapt for the next trimester or year. While this information helps us understand what the current students are feeling about the curriculum, the best feedback I have heard is from alumnae who come back to campus and say how well prepared they are for life post-Dana, and that Forum was a huge component of that. We ask many alumnae to return to campus to speak to 12th grade Forum classes, participate in X-Blocks, and even contribute to the annual Ship Day. Two years ago for Ship Day, which is a full day of health and wellness presentations for students in grades 9 through 12, the theme was healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. The alumna who introduced the speakers and topics to the student body reiterated how meaningful Forum was to her, especially during college. She encouraged students to appreciate how lucky they are to learn about these issues before attending college. This is the most beneficial feedback the Forum program receives.
Two years ago, the Health & Wellness Committee went through a review where we analyzed program successes, challenges, and possible future goals. Committee members visited other New England independent schools, and we hosted visitors from these institutions. During these meetings, we discussed each school’s successes and challenges of health and wellness programing. By completing this process, we reinforced the many strengths the Forum Program and Health & Wellness Committee brings to the Dana Hall community. We learned that we are far ahead of many of our peer schools; of course we still determined areas of improvement and future goals.
The Forum Program and the Health & Wellness Committee are distinguishing aspects of the Dana Hall experience. As an employee of the school, I greatly appreciate being involved in the social-emotional development of our students. The end product always makes the anxiety of planning during the summer months well worth it!