Pressing Pause on the School Day

By Hope Rogers

In recent years, mental health has emerged at the forefront of issues facing Payton students, so Payton has recently introduced several initiatives to integrate social emotional learning into the school environment.

Quiet hours are now enforced in the library, both in the morning and during student lunch periods. Fiona O’Brien ‘18, a leader of Youth Wellness Team, said that the team had wanted last year to create a “mental health sanctuary.” Although this idea could not be implemented immediately because of complications with staffing and space, the Youth Wellness Team continued to work with the administration to devise a plan for the next year.

Not only will the quiet hours in the library serve as a source of escape from the hectic school environment for all Payton students, says O’Brien, but it will especially help students who “come from homes where it’s loud, and they don’t have a lot of space to focus.”

O’Brien added that the Youth Wellness Team plans to bring in coloring pages, puzzles, and more stress-relieving activities for students to use.

Along with the opportunity to seek quiet time in the library, all students receive a daily moment of rest through the Payton Pause. The administration sent an email to the student body a few days before the first day of school explaining that the Payton Pause is a designated minute “during the day when every human on campus will stop talking, texting, walking, and working to reflect.”

O’Brien said that the Payton Pause is a chance for students and faculty “to really stop and be present in what we’re doing because we don’t do that really ever at Payton.” The Pause is designated as time for students to take a break from the bustle of the school day through a minute-long guided meditation immediately before the last block period of the day.

Over the summer, Youth Wellness Team created a template for weekly Pause prompts: Mondays and Wednesdays focus on reflection; Tuesdays and Thursdays engage people’s bodies in a method of physical relaxation; and on Fridays students are encouraged to reflect positively on the week as a whole. The administration uses this framework to come up with each intercom message.

Dr. Erica Bauer, Payton’s Director of Student Engagement, explained that when the administration chooses the prompts for the week, “they are rooted in things that actually have been shown to provide health benefits,” from lowering blood pressure to relieving “physiological reactions to stress.”

“We’re looking for ways to embed social emotional learning into education,” Dr. Bauer continued. “If our practice isn’t evolving with the science around the brain, we’re not at the top of our game. If you’re still doing the same thing as ten years ago while the science around learning has increased, what are you doing?”

The library quiet zone and the Payton Pause are both part of a larger renewed effort to ensure that Payton students are learning how to take care of themselves and how to understand their emotions as they progress through their academic career at Payton.

Beyond these recent changes, Dr. Bauer said that Payton has more to do in the future to ensure that social emotional learning is woven into an integral part of every student’s school experience: the classroom.

“If one day school changes, and we no longer have enrichment, and we no longer have advisory, that cannot equate to no longer having these types of social-emotional learning resources available, so we have to get them into the classroom,” Dr. Bauer said.

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