Tailoring Wellness Week To Phillips Academy

This past week was a mostly successful attempt at educating Andover students about wellness. In our workshops, carefully chosen speakers and dynamic presentations offered varied and informative views on topics that shape the lives of the typical teenager. The question is, are we at Phillips Academy typical teenagers? The problems facing our community are distinct from other schools because of our rigorous pace of life. The fast-paced atmosphere and high academic expectations at Andover distinguish us from other high schools, and, as such, we have a set of problems all our own. While drinking and date rape are grave concerns to society, they are not critical problems in our daily lives on campus. Alcohol will never be completely absent from the high school experience, but it is much less of an issue than many would expect. And while student relationships and parietal rules should be discussed and reviewed, most students do not experience romantic encounters, let alone instances of date rape. While the engaging speeches did much to raise awareness about the issues above and others, they did little to address the deeper problems of our unique school community. The issues that most intensely affect our distinctive quality of life at Andover include sleep deprivation, stress, mental health, drugs (more so than alcohol) and eating disorders. Wednesday’s All-School Meeting was exactly the kind of focused, relevant speech we needed to hear. It offered easy applications of principles that could directly influence our quality of life and help with our extraordinary levels of stress. Sleep deprivation is probably the most common affliction on campus, going hand in hand with caffeine addiction. Another deeply-rooted problem at Andover is the students’ distrust of the mental health resources on campus, which has only moderately recovered since the Rampell incident nearly five years ago. According to last year’s State of the Academy Survey, only 54.3 percent of students would refer a friend to Graham House. If Andover is really going to do something to improve students’ psychiatric treatment, this stigma must be dispelled. Drug use, especially marijuana, is a problem at Phillips Academy that FCD Week addressed almost too much. According to last year’s survey, 92.1 percent of students said that illegal substances are less of a problem at Andover than at other schools. Wellness Week managed to address a broader range of topics while still touching on this important issue. As a recent Phillipian report revealed, eating disorders are a serious presence at Andover. 17.2 percent of 390 female respondents polled answered in the State of the Academy survey last spring that they had either been treated for or experienced an eating disorder. This obstacle to student health and well-being clearly needs an adequate and aggressive response. A panel that included a girl recovering from an eating disorder, an eating disorder specialist, a nutritionist and on-campus counselors, such as Dr. Keller and Mr. Kuta, was effective and informative, offering such practical information as the warning signs of eating disorders and what to do if you suspect a friend of having one. However, the panel was a short, secondary part to the presentation on eating disorders, which, on the whole, did little to enlighten a tired, jaded audience. At the very least, Wellness Week cut down on the amount of academic commitments students faced and gave us a welcome block of free time in our overscheduled lives. Those few hours of sleep may have done more for our collective wellness than days of talking about our chronic lack of sleep. It is practical steps like this that are most useful in improving our “wellness,” rather than irrelevant performances that do nothing more than reinforce stereotypes. Wellness education at Andover is well on the way to becoming the practical, informative and effective program we need.