Create a Wellness Fair to Counter Kids’ Stress
By Kasey Short
This is the third school year that’s been impacted by Covid. Our current 8th grade students have not had “normal” school since 5th grade.
Students have missed out on countless opportunities to socialize, collaborate, participate in extracurricular activities, and manage their time in a traditional school environment.
Our middle school Director of Counseling, Janani Buford, realized early in the school year that students were experiencing a significant amount of stress and anxiety, and many did not have the tools they needed to manage it.
Janani decided that she wanted to be proactive in helping students learn and practice coping skills. This led her to brainstorm a Middle School Wellness Fair to highlight that stress is normal, showcase that mental health is a priority, and provide students with opportunities to learn and practice a variety of coping skills.
Although the planning process was time consuming; the outcome for our students was well worth the time spent. We hope that the information below is helpful to anyone who is interested in providing a similar opportunity to students at their school at some point this year or in the future.
Planning the Fair Activities
Begin by making a list of possible sessions that would benefit students by teaching them coping skills and/or promoting wellness and mental health awareness. Then start reaching out to people within the community who specialize in these forms of wellness and ask if they would be interested in participating in the wellness fair.
We were fortunate to receive an overwhelming response from people willing to volunteer to teach sessions for our students. If you find there are not enough community members able to facilitate all the sessions you need, you might ask teachers to share strategies they use for their own wellness. Hearing how some adults in their lives cope would also be beneficial.
Suggestions for Community Businesses to Contact:
- Yoga Studies
- Fitness Centers
- Art Studies
- Motivational Speakers
- Therapists with various specialties such as mindfulness, art therapy, journaling, etc.
Then develop the schedule for the day and think through logistics that will be needed to serve your number of students within your facilities. Be sure to build momentum by asking for help from others within the school. Janani met with our middle school scheduler to design student and teacher schedules and assign room locations for the day.
To offset cost and show appreciation for the volunteers, Janani asked our Parents Association if they would be willing to provide gift bags, coffee, and water bottles to thank the volunteers. A Parents Association may also have suggestions for community volunteers who have businesses or hobbies related to stress relief and would be willing to participate.
How We Structured Our Fair
Students spent an entire school day participating in Wellness Fair activities.
The day began with a keynote speaker (a therapist) who explained to students the definition of stress and anxiety, gave an overview of coping skills, and encouraged students to find strategies that worked for them.
Students then rotated through four unique sessions, with a snack break in the middle. The students traveled with their English classmates, and a teacher was assigned to each group to escort the students and help the volunteers as needed.
Each session leader was asked to begin the sessions by explaining why the strategy/skill they were sharing helps with stress and anxiety and promotes wellness. They were then to model the skill and provide students an opportunity to practice the strategy.
- Fueling the Body
- Developing Self-Leadership Skills
After students participated in four sessions, their afternoon looked slightly different depending on their grade level, but all students had lunch and went to their physical education class during their regularly scheduled time.
All students (by grade level) also had the opportunity to visit the traveling petting zoo that was invited to our school for the afternoon. The local petting zoo (we’re based in Charlotte NC) brought a bunny, baby pigs, a goat, a llama, an alpaca, and a miniature cow. Teachers helped facilitate the students seeing the animals, but the company took care of the animals and directed students on how to interact with them.
This petting zoo was a true highlight of everyone’s day. This part of the Wellness Fair brought joy to students and faculty members and provided an opportunity for kids to practice living in the moment and have fun outside.
Students then spent the remainder of afternoon watching the Disney movie Inside Out through a school subscription service (Swank) which provides licensing for viewing movies. This movie allowed students to have some time to relax and provided a safe environment for discussing the feelings and emotions of a fictional character.
At the end of the day, students filled out an anonymous Google Form to provide feedback about the experience. Students overwhelmingly loved the petting zoo, rock painting, yoga, and mindfulness.
Our Covid Protocols
To maintain Covid safety protocols throughout the day, all visitors on campus were masked and had proof of either a Covid vaccine or a negative Covid test. All regular Covid protocols such as distancing and masking were in place.
Goals Accomplished; Fun Ensued!
This event was a lot of fun for students and accomplished many mental health goals. It really normalized mental health as a priority for students and faculty, acknowledged that stress is a normal and expected part of life, showcased that everyone needs strategies to deal with stress, and gave students time practicing various coping skills.
Parents were provided with information about the Wellness Fair and a list of the volunteers who facilitated sessions. This allowed families to discuss the strategies with their children, encourage their children to continue to use strategies that work for them at home, and to reach out to any of the volunteers for more information as needed.
Since the teachers traveled with students and participated in the activities, they will be able to incorporate the strategies in their classrooms and remind students to use these strategies throughout the year.
What Our Students Had to Say
“I really thought that wellness day would be boring but instead I learned a lot about my body and my mind and how to cope with my stress.” – Stefan
“It was helpful that the school got trained professionals to lead the sessions. Also, being around baby animals is an instant stress relief.” – Sarah
“I loved the art and hanging out with my friends. My favorite part was the rock painting, it was so relaxing and fun.” – Tyler
“The Wellness Fair was a great experience to step away from the everyday stress of school and learn ways to cope with stress and anxiety while having fun.” – Lily
Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) loves to share ideas from her classroom and writes frequently for MiddleWeb. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University. She is currently the Director of Studies at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School and an eighth grade English Teacher.