From the May 2018 issue

Cultivating Both Mind and Body in the Classroom

For kids to get the most out of their education, they must be in prime physical, mental and emotional health – and that's the focus at The Roeper School.

Brought to you by The Roeper School

Have you ever tried to focus when you weren’t feeling your best? You might have felt sluggish or disinterested, and whatever you did accomplish may not have been your best work.

On the flip side, a workout or a healthy meal can really make you feel strong, motivated and on top of the world.

When we feel better, we think better and we do better. And the same goes for kids. If they aren’t in tip-top shape physically and emotionally, their schoolwork can suffer, which is why The Roeper School puts such a big focus on its students’ overall health.

Providing support

“A kid cannot function unless they’re healthy,” says Dee Blankenburg, a specialist teacher with Roeper. “If the kid is not ready to receive information, then we’re up against the wall, really.”

To keep from hitting that wall, Blankenburg, who also works as the school’s health coordinator, started in the Lower School with a three-piece curriculum to jumpstart students’ healthy learning.

The first piece, Healthy Self, starts by taking a look at the individual student and his or her needs.

“We’re looking at things like stress, anxiety and happiness; being able to understand and recognize your emotions and your physical reactions,” she explains. “Understanding you’re an individual and the effect that social media plays on your self-esteem.”

Then students move onto Healthy Relationships, where they learn how to set boundaries and recognize what is acceptable in a relationship. And, the next year, they’re involved in Healthy Communities and Environments, where kids learn how to develop leadership skills, create healthy classroom climates and value individual diversity and identity.

But it doesn’t stop there. Students also are exposed to standard physical education to take care of their bodies, as well as meditation and yoga classes so they can learn mindfulness and how to deal with anxiety, stress and improve their mental health. Plus there are safety courses that aim to help them make healthy choices about food, drugs and personal safety – on top of a school course load.

A group effort

What really sets Roeper apart from other schools in the health department, though, is teacher involvement with all of these programs.

“Everyone should be a health teacher,” Blankenburg explains. “Everyone across the board should be instructing the kids or guiding the kids to make good choices.”

And that’s exactly what Roeper’s teachers do. Because the school philosophy values relationships, teachers are encouraged to engage in teacher training to help develop these practices so they can understand how to embrace and implement the healthy programming and courses in his or her classroom.

In addition, each class is small – about eight students for every one teacher – and each homeroom teacher has his or her students for two years. That means teachers they can foster stronger relationships with their students and provide them with emotional support, should they need it, while still allowing them to learn and grow on their own.

“(Our students) are complex individuals, and it is very important that we have a relationship,” Blankenburg says. “Our children need to make sense of the world (and) as a teacher, if you can allow your child to have the space and time and movement in their environment, then that’s a healthy lifestyle.”

To learn about The Roeper School and its philosophy on building healthy lifestyles, visit roeper.org.

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