District News

With everything that high schoolers are facing today, like challenging academic course loads, a slew of extracurricular activities and pressure to gain acceptance to a top university, it may be hard to imagine students finding a relaxing and tranquil haven at school.

But that’s just what’s coming to Byram Hills High School by way of a Wellness Den. With comfortable seating, calming, pale green walls and serene artwork, this separate space being constructed in the library this spring gives students a quiet place to just be, free from the rest of hectic high school life and the world at large.

There are no desks or computers here, and cellphones can be safely stored before entering. This is a place designed for purposeful lounging and unplugging from technology. It’s a spot just for students where they can recharge their bodies, re-center their minds and practice mindfulness, the art of being aware of the present moment and calmly accepting and observing one’s thoughts and feelings.

“It’s not for hanging out or chatting with friends or doing homework or schoolwork,” Principal Christopher Walsh said. “This space is specifically designed for our students who want to incorporate mindfulness techniques into their day. Research shows that practicing mindfulness for as little as three minutes a day can reduce stress and anxiety. If students are operating with a high level of stress and anxiety, we know that will have a negative impact on their learning.”

The den arrives as part of the wellness wave sweeping the nation, and the separate, quiet spaces that have been created in workplaces, universities and some schools as well. “We’re one of the first high schools in our area to have a space specifically designed for mindfulness,” Mr. Walsh said.

It also comes as our students, like many nationwide, are feeling stress and competitive pressure. Earlier this year, Byram Hills High School students participated in Stanford University’s Challenge Success Student Survey, an anonymous online survey that asked students about things like homework, academic engagement, extracurricular activities and sleep.

Preliminary results indicate that Byram Hills students would greatly benefit from more sleep, greater balance and more purposeful engagement, according to Mr. Walsh. The den is a step in helping students find balance.

“The survey has given us the opportunity to see life at Byram Hills from our students' perspective,” Mr. Walsh said. “What we are seeing is that they need a place like the Wellness Den to utilize different strategies to ‘get back to neutral.’”

The creation of the Wellness Den reflects a change in how educators view students.

“As recently as 20 years ago, educators focused solely on academics,” Mr. Walsh said. “Now, we see that we’re not doing our job unless we are attending to the whole student. The Wellness Den gives students the opportunity to quiet the background noise and re-center themselves, so they can go into classes ready to maximize their potential.”

A steering committee of parents, teachers, administrators and students is assessing the survey data and will be working to determine additional ways to improve the overall student Experience.

“The work we are doing with Challenge Success coupled with the new Wellness Den will give our students a better overall learning experience,” Mr. Walsh said. “Over the next few years, our hope is that the survey and the Wellness Den will help us redefine what success is for our students.”

Challenge Success and the Wellness Den were generously funded by the Byram Hills Education Foundation.