Fostering awareness of health and well-being is at the forefront of the Oceanside School District’s goals for the new school year.
While continuing its existing wellness programs, the district introduced a new position of health and wellness provider in the elementary schools, a new mental health course and club in the high school and an overall initiative, “OSD Be Well,” to tie all these programs together and involve the larger community.
“Who we are and how we feel inside should always be a priority,” said Samantha Jannotte, the district’s new health and wellness provider. “We’re bringing the conversation alive in elementary through high school, so hopefully these kids can really not be afraid to start that conversation, as well, if we’re starting it for them. So it’s exciting.”
The district created Jannotte’s position to meet a New York state mandate requiring health and wellness counseling in the elementary schools beginning in the 2019-20 school year. Jannotte is an alumna of Oceanside High School, and she graduated with a master’s degree in school counseling from Queens College in 2018. She now visits fourth and fifth grade classes throughout the district for 40-minute lessons on being well. The curricula includes things that, as adults, “we wish we’d learned in school,” she said.
Jannotte’s lesson plans are based on the American School Counselor Association framework and breaks into three tiers: academic, college/career readiness and social-emotional wellness. Students will learn how to recognize their feelings and take step back to reflect on them before acting. They also learn organizational skills, healthy habits and, essentially, how to feel their best.
“If we give them the skills to recognize emotions, they are going to be the best selves they can be,” said Diane Provvido, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and research.
At the high school, 26 students are enrolled in a new class on mental health. Its tentative title is “Demystifying and Redefining Mental Health and Wellness,” and it is led by health teacher Sara Dowler. The course’s curriculum is a “work in progress” and will build upon input from students, Dowler said.
In addition, many of the students taking the class will begin the Youth Council, an extracurricular club that focuses on mental health awareness. So far, more than 125 people have demonstrated interest at the school’s recent club fair.
Dowler said that the initiatives tie into substance abuse awareness and campaigns against underage drinking — just at a fresh angle.
“All of the negative behaviors I see kids get into — it all stems from their mental health or lack of being mentally healthy,” she said. “To me, this is a no-brainer. It’s not about telling them not to smoke, for example. It’s about having them care about themselves enough not to smoke. And the students came to me, they want this education.”
The final piece is involving parents and the community, district officials said. Many students have expressed reluctance to seek help from adults for fear that they’ll brush them off and say, “get over it,” Dowler noted. The idea, then, is to change the conversation and culture around mental health and overall well-being across Oceanside.
To do this, district officials are pushing “OSD Be Well,” a campaign to bring awareness to all the different initiatives happening in the schools. This will include a Parent University session that will focus on mental health, and details are coming soon, Provvido said.
It will also include a virtual walking event, “OSB Be Well Race the USA Challenge.” All Oceansiders can download World Walking, a mobile application that tracks steps, and join the OSD Be Well group. Collectively, the goal is to “walk across America” as group members log their steps on the app. Residents can learn more about OSD Be Well on its Twitter account, @OSDBeWell.