From an upcoming article to be published in the December issue of Independent School Magazine. This piece will appear in Alex Brosowsky's "Game Changer" column.
In recent years, independent school leaders have become aware of the rise in symptoms of depression and anxiety among our students, especially in middle and upper school. In the past, some schools have chosen to refer students to outside specialists or to counsel out entirely. At Purnell School, we have instead recognized that these social-emotional conditions have become a common part of adolescence for all of our students and directly impact their learning.
Purnell School has studied this trend and the relevant research that indicates the inextricable links among cognition, affect, and mental health. In response, we redesigned our school program two years ago to address Learning & Wellness together, as part of each student's school experience. We know – and neuroscientific research shows – that no student is available to learn unless his/her social-emotional needs are simultaneously and interactively addressed.
Purnell's Learning & Wellness approach has been a game-changer for our students and their families. Our Learning & Wellness team is comprised of our senior education, counseling and student life professionals. This multi-disciplinary team collaborates to inform all of our academic and student life programming. Through the holistic lens of our Learning & Wellness approach, we have constructed a continuum of learning support services and access to mental health supports. We meet weekly to anticipate student needs of any type. In this way, we are proactive rather than reactive. Our approach has helped to normalize – rather than stigmatize – adolescent needs.
At Purnell, our programs are designed around our students to provide foster curiosity and creativity in the context of a nurturing school climate. Nearly all of our student clubs and affinity groups are initiated by and led by our students.
Our early results have been positive with students, parents, and faculty. We see a rise in students' self-awareness, emotional regulation, and self-advocacy that they take with them to college after Purnell.
Anne M. Glass, Ed.M. is Head of School at Purnell School, a 9-12 boarding and day school for girls who learn differently in Pottersville, NJ. She is the Learning Disabilities Association 2019 Sam Kirk Educator of the Year. Anne serves on the Neurodevelopmental & Health Committee, the Education Committee, and the Nominating Committee of LDA. She holds an M.A. in Reading and an Ed.M. in Learning Disabilities from Teachers College, Columbia University.