MCPS' new wellness initiative, while commendable, has its faults

Oct. 15, 2019, 2:01 p.m. | By Mercedes Pierce | 4 years, 4 months ago

The county’s initiative aims to address the mental and physical health of K-12 students

For the 2019-2020 school year, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) launched the Be Well 365 program, which aims to improve the overall wellness of students K-12. As a part of this initiative, Blair implemented a bimonthly innovation period where students will receive lessons on restorative justice, mental health and relationship building. While the county’s effort to address the overall well-being of students is admirable, we will have to wait and see how successful these efforts are. 

Blair teacher leads a lesson on restorative justice during an innovation period as part of the Be Well 365 initiative (courtesy of Sydney Hastings-Wilkins). Photo courtesy of Sydney Hastings-Wilkins.

Student well-being is a widely-discussed topic among both students and faculty and schools are starting to address mental health in a variety of ways. Last school year, Blair conducted a schoolwide suicide prevention lesson during homeroom, which was met with a wave of student complaints and petitions because of the poor execution. “What they did last year was insensitive and really not well thought out,” junior Gemma Volz said. “It was almost mocking depression and suicidal issues.”

School administrators and county officials must have realized that something needed to be done because in the spring, MCPS announced the Be Well 365 initiative for the 2019-2020 school year. Superintendent Jack Smith claimed would improve students' overall health and academic performance. “At MCPS, we are committed to the academic success and to the physical, social and psychological well-being of every one of our students,” Smith said. “Student learning is our purpose, and we know that students perform better academically when they are healthy in body, mind and spirit.”

The county is on the right path. It has been proven that kids perform better in school when they are mentally and physically healthy. “Our results showed that mental health was a stronger predictor of academic performance than other predictors and students whose mental health improved made better academic progress than students whose mental health did not improve or worsened,” a study on the connection between mental health and academic outcomes concludes. 

The steps that Blair has taken following the launch of Be Well 365, such as the innovation period, also come with good intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions alone may not solve the problem. Although we are only a few weeks into the school year and Blazers have had only two innovation periods so far, it is clear that the lessons may not be the perfect solution.

While the lessons' goal of improving the well-being of students is admirable, they tend to come across as condescending rather than informative. Lessons comprised of cheesy poems and surface-level questions won’t help high schoolers face issues of mental health. Lessons should teach high schoolers to deal with their problems in a way that appeals to and works for teenagers, not little kids. Furthermore, these lessons have been thrown on teachers with little preparation or education. The attempts to talk about important problems such as mental health are sure to fall on deaf ears if teachers are not well prepared and passionate about the topic. In order to make this initiative successful, MCPS needs to arm teachers with better tools to address these issues.

Though MCPS’ and Blair’s new initiatives fall short, it is comforting to know that county officials and school administrators are considering the well-being of students. “While innovation period isn’t the best, it’s at least normalizing it,” Volz said about depression and other issues faced by students. Even by initiating conversations about mental health, we are taking steps in the right direction, and in that regard, the launch of Be Well 365 is commendable.

Last updated: Oct. 15, 2019, 2:02 p.m.

Tags: MCPS mental health Be Well 365 innovation period

Mercedes Pierce. Hi! I am a junior and this is my first year on Silver Chips Online. I enjoy reading and writing about sports and politics as well as being a dancer and a baseball fan. More »

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