P.E. Department introduces mental health practices to students

Recently, ETHS has taken strides towards bettering the mental health of the student body. Since October, students in all physical education classes have been taking time out of class to practice a type of mindfulness called S.E.A.C. (Stop, Exhale, Attend and Connect) and learn different types of breathing techniques. These activities have been brought to ETHS in collaboration with Rebel Human, a health and wellness organization based in Evanston. 

Nationally, student mental health decreased significantly over the course of last year’s pandemic school year. The ramifications of last year are still being felt now, leading P.E. teachers at ETHS to implement more supports, both through Rebel Human and other programs. 

“Given everything that has transpired in our country over the past two years, [and] the stressors that students have coming back to school, … mental health has become [more emphasized] now,” PE teacher Sarah Meo said. “I’ve noticed that it’s harder to focus [and] to regulate emotion, and I think that, because we are in a mental health crisis, it’s affecting students on many different levels. It looks different for every person,” Meo said. 

According to its official website, Rebel Human was founded “out of the shared desire to help people develop the skills needed to challenge the norms that are numbing us out, cutting us off and making us sick and sad.” 

Rebel Human offers meditation, yoga classes, retreats, online courses and other services.  During the 2020-2021 school year, Rebel Human services were offered through school programs, but they were not integrated into classes. 

The idea to bring Rebel Human to ETHS is not new. 

“This has been on the docket to implement for a while, and with COVID and e-learning, everyone across the board saw the demand. With e-learning, that heightened the need. It was important to get this going right away,” Meo said. The integration of the program started among the PE teachers, and eventually spread to the administration. 

According to Meo, the P.E. teachers trained with Rebel Human founder Jenny Arrington and prepared to guide students through the practices, as well as learned the neuroscience behind each practice. However, in the midst of the pandemic last year, training for teachers was sped up and sometimes left incomplete, since the administration decided that getting the program put in place was more important than making it flawless. 

“It was important to get this going right away,” Meo said.

Another teacher in the physical education department, Montell Wilburn, agrees. 

“It’s about time. It’s something we should have been incorporating since I can remember. Mental health and stress management are vital to academic success. This will hopefully become a school-wide initiative where we prioritize [mental health] over academics,” Wilburn said.

In the past, ETHS has voiced its concern on the mental health of the student body, but not many supports have been put into place until now, and Wilburn truly believes that these new integrations will benefit students’ overall mental health. “Knowing that someone is there for you when you’re struggling, knowing that people care about your well being instead of just being an ID number, can make a world of a difference,” Wilburn commented.

Students have benefitted from these practices and often find them to be helpful and relaxing. 

“I love it. I really love it. It’s so calming,” junior Lila Muboyayi said. 

“I have students asking me, ‘Are we gonna have time at the end to relax; are we going to do the practices?” Meo recalled, reflecting on the positive reactions from students.

The students who enjoy the practices will be happy to know that they will be more prevalent next year. The administration plans to integrate the mental health and breathing practices into every class. 

“The goal [for next year] is to spend two to three minutes of each class doing breathing exercises, maybe in the middle, once people get lethargic,” Meo said. Although the practices will be integrated into other subjects, they will not be as time consuming as they are in P.E. so that students will miss minimal instruction time. 

Some students, however, aren’t happy about the new programming. 

“I think that it’s kind of superficial to be honest. How in depth can you get in a gym class mental health wise?” junior Sophie Brown said. 

Brown is also concerned about the new responsibilities being put on the teachers. 

“They just put meditating and mental health on the gym teachers, and it feels like a cop out,” Brown explained. 

Instead, Brown said, mental health programming should be less time consuming and easier on teachers. 

“It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but just like checking in on students who might be struggling.” 

Regardless of the added responsibilities for teachers, the push for these activities shows improving student mental health is a priority at ETHS. The P.E. department has been the leader in prioritizing students’ well being over academics. Though the student population is torn, the Rebel Human SEAC programming will become more emphasized in classrooms next year.