PDS revamps its Health and Wellness Program

Garrett Monfre, Managing Staff Artist

Garrett Monfre, Managing Staff Artist

Rahul Bhatia, Staff Writer

Exhaustion, substance abuse, and poor diet. These issues continue to emerge as the major areas of concern for students at Princeton Day School.

Three years ago, former Wellness Committee Chair Doug McLean conducted a survey to judge areas in which the school could better help its students in stress management, sleep, social and emotional issues, as well as in teaching them more about themselves. The survey found that exhaustion, substance abuse, homework, and food choices were main areas of concern when it came to wellbeing.

The survey found that 91.9 percent of students were getting less than eight hours of sleep per night, though the Sleep Foundation’s recommended amount is eight to ten hours a night. To effectively address these issues, the Health and Wellness Committee, which is now chaired by Head of School Paul Stellato, began drafting and revising a health and wellness curriculum that they hoped would be implemented in all grade levels. After the completion of the Lower School curriculum, in the summer of 2014, Mr. Stellato began thinking of ways in which he could expand the program to the Middle and Upper Schools. Last year, as the committee began to write the curriculum for the Middle School, Mr. Stellato felt that the program needed a full-time director, so the committee hired Dr. Maritoni (Candy) Shah to be the Director of Wellness Services.

Dr. Shah, a graduate of Trinity College, received an M.A. in Medical Sciences from Boston University and her medical degree from the Ross School of Medicine. Dr. Shah is connected to the PDS community not only through her new position, but also as the mother of two students, Maya ’22 and Milan ’23. Additionally, she is married to an alumnus of PDS, Utpal (Paul) Shah ’90.

In her new position, Dr. Shah will lead and guide all school-wide curricular and co-curricular initiatives concerning student physical and emotional health, as well as advising the Head of School and his leadership team on all matters pertaining to student well-being. Dr. Shah will also be teaching various health classes to both Middle and Upper School students, as well as working with the Athletic Department, the College Counseling Office, and the Peer Group Program.

Dr. Shah and other faculty members have worked hard over the summer to construct a new health and wellness curriculum for both the Lower and Middle Schools. The new curriculum hopes to introduce these students to topics that focus on the body, health and life choices, sexuality, and substances. Previously, only seventh and eighth grade students had health classes every week, while fifth and sixth grade students had these classes every other week. Now, all Middle School students will have a period dedicated to wellness every week, taught either by Dr. Shah or other health teachers.

This begs the question, in what ways will this initiative attempt to reach out to the Upper School? According to Mr. Stellato, the Peer Group program has been revamped to include more focused lessons and interactive activities in the hopes of having freshmen  learn about health and wellness from their peers. To target juniors and seniors, Dr. Shah hopes to combine the current college application process, often the most stressful months of any high school experience, with some of the health and wellness curriculum. Finally, the sophomores will be taught a formal course about well-being in their required health classes.

Despite all that has been accomplished in the last three years, this seems to be only the beginning of the emphasis on well-being at PDS. The hope is that PDS will be a place from which kids will graduate not exhausted, but excited for their futures.