Last Thursday night’s event, The Forum: A Conversation on Girls and Stress, was another highlight for me as I near the end of an amazing first year at Dana Hall School. Planning the event reminded me of how much deliberate work has been put in to building the school’s academic and programmatic structure in such a way to support girls’ social and emotional health and development. This prioritization of wellness and education of the whole child was a huge part of my excitement to come to Dana Hall as the Middle School Counselor. Now that I am a part of the team, the foundational work that was already in place has far exceeded my expectations.
Every week, I continue to be amazed by the girls’ ability to self-reflect, challenge assumptions, and support one another in their Forum classes. Exploring the complexities of new friendships with 5th graders and grappling with identity and difference with 8th graders builds a foundation in which girls see their school as a place for connection and community. From 5th through 12th grade, girls have an opportunity through Forum classes to come together with a faculty member and discuss social issues (from substance use to healthy relationships) at a developmentally appropriate level. And throughout it all, we address stress, anxiety and healthy coping skills.
In this community, there are so many touchpoints for girls to connect with trusted adults to get support—from advisors to teachers to coaches. The Dana Hall environment strives to be one in which girls are learning and trying new things and in which challenging oneself, attempting, failing, and trying again are expected and stated values of growth. Yet even in a community that is so deliberate about self-care, day-to-day stressors about starting a new sport or an upcoming math test still frequently send girls to my office in tears. These appropriately stressful times can cause the girls to experience physical symptoms, such as heart racing, stomach aches, or trouble breathing. But the ability to identify both the worry and the physical manifestations allows us to work through the feeling and navigate more effectively—both in that moment and moving forward. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing that 8th grader who was terrified of lacrosse excited to show off her new stick skills, or the 7th grader proud of her improving grades in math.
We are mindful that significant transitions, while thrilling for many, can be difficult or triggering for some. Likewise, all-school events, while exciting to most students, may feel overwhelming for others. And, there are girls for whom just getting to school feels like a lot of work. It is our job to be aware—to help scaffold and encourage the girls to slowly engage with their fears and not avoid them. It is a privilege to be able to support the girls, partner with families and collaborate with teachers in service of our students and Dana Hall’s mission.