Enrichment Added on Fridays

On a brisk September afternoon, I sat down with our newly-appointed assistant headmaster, Dr. Incardona, in a snug office off the auditorium. Our discussion focused on the Friday morning Enrichment Block and the genesis behind SHP’s push for student wellness. After a few minutes of candid digging, I began to unravel a program that is long in the making, highly suited to the times, and keenly aware of its therapeutic rather than academic aim.

Indeed, what grew to be a holistic view of student health actually originated from the demands of Middle States accreditation. With the advent of the 2017-18 school year, Seton Hall had already assumed a task laden with rigorous, time-tested standards and the backing of the state. While the adjudicator’s objective read plainspoken, assessing how exactly to address it meant reexamining everything SHP stood for.  The guidelines were simple: Distill a theme that embodies the principles of a Prep education and create an action plan to follow. Administrators turned not to the existing structures of the curriculum but instead took a leap into the “generation factor.” One question arose immediately.  What in modern society was plaguing the development of young people and stifling their ability to get ahead? Overwhelmingly, it was concluded that school-related anxiety was the culprit that perpetually demonized the learning cycle. Through a process entitled Sustaining Excellence, the school would engage in a three-pronged response fixated on the pillars of mental, physical, and spiritual health.  Dr. Incardona credits a cohesive team of stakeholders who came from a variety of backgrounds to collaborate on the project, including a certified nutritionist, clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Barrett, Ph.D., and a myriad of in-house faculty. As it turns out, the job of integrating workshops and lectures centered around stress remediation could not have solved a more onerous problem already embedded in the schedule. For years, the odd assembly period on Fridays always wrought havoc on any type of logical class order. The occasional Knights mass or guest speaker made for an end-of-the-week that often looked like a patchwork of mismatched 40 and 50 minute periods. By implementing one endeavor, the administrative quixotry of yesteryear could finally be laid to rest.

Mechanical aspects of the enrichment concept aside, there still exists a genuine need for school-sponsored wellness initiatives. As Dr. Incardona notes, the raw data surrounding student anxiety only tells half the story; in the classroom itself, certain problems emerge more palpably. Sojourn through classrooms today, and you’ll likely encounter individuals exhibiting deep, worried malaises. Student concerns constantly puncture the air, tinged by questions related to specific grades and point systems. This reality didn’t use to be so pervasive, but it feeds on the current ethos of our education system, which fixates heavily on results and in some ways belies the actual learning process. As college costs soar and competition to gain entry into the very best locales simmers, many youths have been feeling the squeeze of adulthood much too early. The admissions process, now exposed for all its institutional flaws, seems increasingly subjective. Expectations are just so different. According to Dr. Incardona, prolonged stress was not a topic that previously entered into the academic conversation–or the company of young people.

For the most part, SHP has tried to keep pace with the protean landscape surrounding adolescent development. Aside from the Peer Mentoring Program, the guidance office has traditionally been at the forefront of student acclimation and progress. While not a direct precursor to the Enrichment Block, the sophomore advisory committee was launched with a similar aim to “knock down” walls of devaluing sentiments by permitting students to express themselves seminar style. A great number of the workshops offered on Fridays bears the same “restorative” group circle format. Of course, beyond the confines of the building, one might even consider Kairos as another outgrowth of spiritual healing driven by communal transparency. The point is exceedingly clear: Suffering grows worse when individuals experience it alone. No man is an island.

When asked about the five-year viability of the Enrichment Block, Dr. Incardona conjures optimistic images of a program revered for its effectiveness and, well, authenticity. If these workshops are to wreak a lasting influence on Prep life, however, they must be melded to the soul of our school culture. The day that Prep students willingly boast about their mornings here will be the day when these programs equal progress.