How do you get hundreds of 11- to 14-year-olds to put on the brakes, collect themselves and settle down?
Offer a full day of rest, relaxation, a chance to re-focus the approach to a host of school-and-life-related issues, and an opportunity to just cut loose. And so, Oct. 18 was “Wellness Day” at Haddonfield Middle School.
Keeping with the district’s core principles of nurturing and empowering, instead of the usual drudgery of lessons, students were offered a variety of activities throughout the course of the school day: walking outdoors, mindfulness training, yoga, dancing, therapy dogs, a seminar on relaxation techniques, as well as more formal presentations on mental health, pursuing healthy relationships, eating disorders and drug prevention.
Special appearances were made by world-champion boxer Bernard Hopkins and by Harlem Globetrotter Speedy Artis – both Philadelphia natives – who offered clinics in the sweet science and basketball-handling tricks, respectively.
“Wellness Day is a wonderful thing and wonderful tradition at our school. Everyone in the community has some sort of role, and we’re all really proud to do that,” said Tracy Matozzo, HMS principal.
Though at times stressful for the teachers and administrators for those stray issues that crop up with hundreds of kids gathered in one place at one time, the students themselves are largely calm, cool and collected.
“Most of the time it’s not stressful because it’s an opportunity for the kids to do things that are not stressful, so the whole thing kind of goes on its own, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Matozzo said.
The afternoon was capped off by the dedication of the school’s counseling office in the name of former employee Mr. John Toto, who passed away in January 2013 after working tirelessly for decades as a counselor at HMS. Toto was responsible for initiating Wellness Day as well as developing the school’s Peer Leadership Program.
“On this day is something that John Toto would love. We did this as a staff but it was just for the teachers a long, long time ago. And he loved it so much, he wanted to adapt it for the middle school. He wanted you to experience all the great things that we had, but he wanted it for you. Over the years, it developed into what you did today,” noted HMS French teacher Sharon Verdeur.
“He would move mountains to make a day like this work.”
Beyond his athletic acumen, Artis brought home an important message about self-care and the care of others by talking about the acronym “TEAM.” Standing for “talk, empathy, ask questions and mobilize,” he encouraged all students gathered in the gym to look out for one another, armed with this new knowledge.
Later in the evening, seventh and eighth graders were welcome to participate in All Hallow’s Eve at Rec Hall, a two-hour Halloween-themed night where pumpkin painting, games, and seasonal movies were shown. Costumes were encouraged, but in keeping with the spirit of the day, cell phones were best kept away.