Wellness Wednesdays — the YCDSB’s approach to relieving stress in students
By: Vivian Zhi
With the ever-increasing awareness and focus on mental health, schools have been trying to find new ways to support their students. In Ontario, high schools within the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) have introduced “Wellness Wednesdays,” — along with a few mental health conferences and talks in response to the call for more mental health supports. Every Wellness Wednesday, which falls on the second Wednesday of each month, teachers are not allowed to teach, nor assign any tests or assignments. The intent is to give students a breather and provide them with time to catch up on assignments and homework. This initiative has been in effect since December 2019, but was put temporarily on hold when schools closed down in March. Now that schools are reopening with preventative measures and alternate schedules, it’s worth examining this system for its competence in accomplishing its goals, especially during these unprecedented times.
At first glance, Wellness Wednesdays seem like a great idea. Students are often overwhelmed with work and they need to make difficult choices between sleep, exercise and time for hobbies. Giving students designated time during school may help them reduce the amount of time they spend on schoolwork at home, which frees up time for students to spend time on whatever they please. During the last couple of Wellness Wednesdays, some school administrations took the initiatives to assemble mental health resources for students, including guided meditations, TED Talks and other activities related to mental health awareness. The York Catholic School Board should be commended on their direct effort to reach out and offer assistance to high schoolers.
However, the actual effects of this initiative may not quite align with what the YCDSB had initially hoped for. When questioned on how she felt about Wellness Wednesdays, Eliza, a rising junior from St. Robert Catholic High School — stated, “They were pretty much pointless since teachers give students extra work the day prior to that day. So it was just a work period rather than a day that focuses on improving students’ mental wellness.” And who can blame the teachers? Having days taken out of already limited instructional time puts more pressure on teachers to make the most out of the little time they’re given. At best, rearranging their teaching schedules is a relatively feasible nuisance. At worst, it can be a teacher’s scheduling nightmare.
It’s not ideal for teachers, but what impact does this have on students? Since tests and assignments can’t be due on Wellness Wednesday, teachers have to look to alternative approaches. Many assign work on Wednesday, to be handed in on Thursday or Friday. Even though Wednesday can be used as a study period, having multiple tests or assignments due in the following weekdays can be a stressful experience. Some teachers do their best and try to coordinate with other teachers to avoid putting too much pressure on the shoulders of students, but it’s not a foolproof method.
There’s also the issue of some students treating Wellness Wednesday as a free period. You might be asking — why bother showing up at all? While students are technically not allowed to skip class on Wellness Wednesday, or any day for that matter, it’s no secret that if you look into a classroom, chances are that you’ll see less students than usual.
If Wellness Wednesdays aren’t accomplishing what they were set out to do, what happens now? It seems evident that further consultation with students is needed. The fact that the average student doesn’t have much of a say in this issue is deeply problematic. Why aren’t the most important stakeholders being consulted? Some have called for therapists and trained mental health professionals to be available for students on the school grounds, with guidance counselors often being too busy handling other tasks. Others say that if a dedicated day is needed to catch up on work, the problem might be that teachers are assigning too much work. These opinions won’t get heard if the YCSDB doesn’t open up the conversation and allow everyday students to contribute in a meaningful way. While the YCDSB’s intentions are well-meaning, the school board needs to ensure that it is both easy and accessible for each student to leave their input.
It remains unclear whether Wellness Wednesdays will even be in place when students return to school in September, as teachers may want or need more time to teach. Perhaps this is a good thing, as it will give more time for the YCDSB to reflect upon the effectiveness of Wellness Wednesdays and decide whether they need to change a few aspects of the system or scrap it altogether. Whatever they choose to do, each student deserves to be treated as a stakeholder, because that’s exactly what they are.
Names were changed to protect anonymity and quotes were edited for clarification. This blog post represents the opinions of Vivian Zhi alone and is not indicative of the opinion or stance of the FCSS-FESC on this particular issue.
Mental health issues on the rise among adolescents, young adults. (n.d.). AJMC. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.ajmc.com/view/mental-health-issues-on-the-rise-among-adolescents-young-adults