New Habits of Wellness assemblies introduced for upperclassmen


Active Minds poster outside of the Well.

The inaugural Habits of Wellness assemblies with the students received mixed reactions with upperclassmen, despite its popularity with the freshmen. With high vaccination rates and continued mask-wearing, Westminster resumed grade-wide assemblies on Aug. 26, 2021, after more than a year of uninterrupted advisory meetings. As a new addition to these assemblies, guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds will be brought in to speak to high school students; the first such assembly centered around diet and intuitive eating. 

These Habits of Wellness topics were first introduced to the ninth-grade class in an effort to give performing arts students more free periods; physical education classes were dropped, and the required content, such as sex education and mental health, was taught in advisement meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The idea to build out programs beyond the ninth grade had always been part of Westminster’s plan, and upperclassmen will continue to hear speakers monthly throughout the school year.

“What we’re attempting to do is have a really good balance of wellness programming, community building, and community activity,” said interim head of Upper School Chanley Small. “I think students having fun together and building community is a really important piece of wellness.”

As part of the Habits of Wellness program, Upper School students not only attend wellness assemblies, but also participate in community-building activities with their advisements, including scavenger hunts, puzzles, and school-wide competitions. By incorporating these activities into students’ schedules, the school hopes to alleviate some stress and create a more engaging environment. Additionally, students can compete with other advisements for prizes, allowing for students across campus to connect.

“I think it’s fun,” said sophomore Andrew Su. “It helps the whole advisement come together to complete challenges and participate in games.”

Both wellness assemblies and advisement team-building activities seek to improve mental health among students and provide a time when both students and faculty can unwind.

“It can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on achievement and performance, often to the detriment of our well-being,” said Upper School counselor Marguerite Spiotta. “We hope to shed light on aspects of well-being that are sometimes overlooked and also help students build on their repertoire of social and emotional skills.”

With Westminster’s rigorous curriculum, many students have felt that these programs have helped to reduce stress levels, and some simply enjoy participating with their classmates, friends, and advisors to accomplish a common goal. While many feel this way about advisement competitions, not all such feelings have transferred over to the wellness assemblies. In late August, upperclassmen attended an assembly covering the topic of eating disorders. A guest speaker was brought in and introduced students to intuitive eating, a belief that food should be consumed as the body desires rather than as dictated in stringent diets.

“I thought [the assembly] was very informative,” said senior Saavan Shah. “It helped me and some of my friends learn about the different ways we can improve our health.”

Other students who attended shared mixed feelings about the speaker and topic presented. Some spoke of their discomfort and felt this approach to eating was not valuable to one’s health. 

“I think that while the intent might have been great because eating disorders are a serious issue, and Westminster needs a time where they try to improve the mental health of students, I do think that this particular assembly might not have been a beneficial experience for many,” said senior Toby Liu. “The issues that the assembly raised were somewhat controversial, and many students, especially athletes who had adopted diets for their sports, felt attacked and diminished for their own eating styles.” 

Prior to the assembly, most students did not know what topic was being discussed, and some expressed criticism for the school not informing the student body.

“I think it’s obviously oversimplified, but I recognize the honest attempt to teach students how to have a better relationship with eating,” said senior Matias Hernandez. “However, I think a trigger warning or some sort of disclaimer would have been helpful for people who struggle with eating disorders, because the solutions offered by the nutritionist don’t apply to everyone.”

Given that the topic discussed was sensitive, it is understandable that many had their own criticisms and feelings. Westminster has always tried to address the mental health of their students through counseling sessions, mental-health days, and other activities, but this assembly marks the first time that Westminster presented the issue to all upperclassmen gathered together. As Westminster continues to execute Habits of Wellness assemblies, it will take into consideration the opinions of students–what went well and what could be improved upon. Students will also attend an interpersonal effectiveness presentation in late September, and the administration hopes to continue with similar topics.

“We hope to educate various community members on various aspects of wellness,” said Spiotta. “Other topics will include interpersonal relationships, substance use, emotion regulation, happiness, and mental health.”

Now that students know what to expect in future presentations, Westminster hopes to hear their feedback and develop more engaging assemblies. Whatever the case is, Westminster’s Habits of Wellness program plans to continue educating students and faculty on improving mental health across the campus into the future.