I don’t remember the exact details now, since it’s been a year and a half, but I do remember embracing the serendipitous moment: the PTAA Health and Wellness Committee was wondering about how we could continue to work on student wellness, and I was thinking about what I had learned in the previous few years about gathering data on that topic. Specifically, in 2018 I had heard Dr. Suniya Luthar speak about the tool she had developed to help high-achieving schools identify the stressors in students’ lives, and then plan for how to address some of those areas of concern.
Because it’s always better to have options, the PTAA committee leaders offered to research different tools we could use. One of the leaders quickly narrowed the options down to the High Achieving School Survey (HASS) and the Making Caring Common survey out of Harvard—both tools came highly recommended, both provided good data.
“Which one should we use?” I asked the parent leader after she had researched the surveys, spoken to the developers, and parsed the information.
“Well,” she paused. “Both.”
She explained that while each was a powerful tool that could help us gather data about student wellbeing, each focused on something slightly different. Making Caring Common delves into creating positive connections among students. The HAS survey aggregates data about the stressors in student lives, both inside and outside the school, and then points us toward the most important actions to take.
“Sounds like an excellent plan,” I said.
So, we organized and talked and worked with the respective companies, laying the foundation for students to take the MCC survey in the spring of 2020 and the HASS survey in the fall of 2020.
Life chortled at our plans and suggested otherwise.
Red and tangerine modes do not lend themselves well to surveys about school climate and student well-being, since the data would naturally be skewed by the lack of face-to-face interactions. But both tools can be used in this orange-mode world. So, only about a year behind schedule, we are planning to have the students complete the HAS survey during advisory in the last week of February (we will have kids complete the MCC survey next school year).
In their materials, the developers of the HAS survey offer this information:
“The survey questions cover areas such as personal values, empathy and kindness, depression and anxiety, substance use, and relationships with family and friends. The goal of the study is to better understand the preoccupations and concerns of children growing up in our community and, accordingly, to learn how best to continue promoting positive development among our students.
The survey is an extension of Dr. Suniya Luthar’s efforts to study and promote positive youth development. Dr. Luthar is currently the Executive Director of Authentic Connections and a professor at Arizona State University and has previously been a senior professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and also a research scientist at Yale University. Please find more about her research publications, honors and awards at SuniyaLuthar.org.”
Because the survey asks about challenging issues, parents have an option to opt out; for more information, look for my email to all parents on February 15th. Still, we hope all our students will participate. The 100% anonymized data will provide us crucial insights that will directly shape how we ensure student wellness specific to Cary Academy.
Ultimately, that data will provide us a map of how we can continue to work toward our strategic goal of student wellness. An important part of our strategic plan prior to March 2020—the need for balance and support in our students’ lives—has only become more important over the past year as we have witnessed the added stress of corona-induced isolation. We have proactively tackled (and are tackling) some of the anticipated issues involving student wellness. The number of class periods per day, the start time for school, the amount of homework—all have been adjusted with an eye toward providing more balance to our students’ lives.
The survey data will allow us to look forward, to identify specific student body needs, to respond with the relevant, flexible approach that threads through all our endeavors at CA. We want our students to succeed holistically, inside and outside the classroom, embracing their wellness as a necessary part of their success.
Here’s to a healthier year for all of us—one rich in good data, no viruses, and powerful wellness collaboratives.