SLT Meeting Discusses Phasing Out Wellness Wednesday

Sam+Varkey%27s+petition+to+keep+Wellness+Wednesday+received+almost+2%2C000+signatures+on+change.org.+

Sam Varkey’s petition to keep Wellness Wednesday received almost 2,000 signatures on change.org.

On Jan. 11, at 4:30pm, the School Leadership Team (SLT) held a meeting that largely discussed the ideas for phasing out Wellness Wednesday. Decatur High School (DHS) principal Rochelle Lofstrand invited students and parents to join the meeting to discuss Wellness Wednesday in her DHS Weekly Update email, which was sent on Jan.7. 

Students had already begun to send mass emails to administrators and City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude in regards to Wellness Wednesday with personal stories advocating for the importance of the free day. 

Sam Varkey who is a sophomore and a Student Government Association (SGA) member was at the SLT meeting and emphasized the petition he created to keep Wellness Wednesday. The petition, which has 1,969 signatures as of Jan. 12, also allowed students to comment on why they wanted to keep Wellness Wednesday.

 “After looking at a lot of the comments on the petition I saw that the majority of students use Wellness Wednesday to prepare for tests, get involved in clubs and other extracurriculars, and to reset for the second half of the week,” Varkey said.

DHS teacher Sean DeWeese also talked about a recent  IB Junior meeting where 200 parents and students expressed overwhelming support to keep a flexible schedule on Wednesdays. 

To learn more about various students’ opinions on Wellness Wednesday, please read the previous article on 3ten.org

During the SLT Meeting, Lofrstrand, SLT Chairman Rich Malerba, and Assistant Superintendent Maggie Fehrman headed the meeting and discussed the plan for phasing out Wellness Wednesday as the kindergarten through 5th-grade schools began moving towards a half in-person and half virtual learning five days a week. 

Lofstrand proposed having a half-virtual school day on Wednesdays where students would have mandatory 20-minute check-ins with their teachers through Google Meets. In these check-ins, there would be no new content taught by the teacher. Additional optional tutorial times could be offered by teachers later in the day.

“We want to provide students with the opportunity to get the support they need and check-in opportunities with the idea that this is not extra work for the students to do but it is more face-to-face time particularly for the kids that need it,” Fehrman said. 

However, there were some students, like senior Marta Westerstahl that felt as if the Wellness Wednesday proposal of 20 minute mandatory check-ins would not be beneficial for students who were in need of further support outside of regular class time.

 “Knowing from experience as a senior what online class is like, the people who need the most help are likely not going to reach out when there is short time pressure and everybody is in that same class with them,” Westerstahl said.  

There was also a repeated concern from students about scheduling time for clubs and other extracurricular activities without Wellness Wednesday.

 “I’m co-captain of Decatur’s Science Olympiad Team and honestly without Wellness Wednesdays we wouldn’t have time to meet,” Junior Bridget Goodman said. 

DeWeese also pointed out fellow teachers’ concerns on time for extracurricular activities, like the writing center, which runs off of peer tutoring. 

“Outside of Wellness Wednesday it’s going to be very difficult to structure something like the writing center which is very beneficial for struggling learners to get that help that is much more effective than group time,” DeWeese said.  

Goodman did not see the need for the repeated mandatory check-in times.

“We have a lot of check-in time built into our schedule already with advisement and small group time,” Goodman said.  

Fehrman further specified that the change in Wellness Wednesday came because of the need and desire for more instructional learning, 

“When we started the school year and started Wellness Wednesday we got very mixed reviews… some parents were pretty upset about it. They felt as if it was losing some very essential academic time,” Fehrman said. 

Fehrman also pointed out the need to consider grade drops with the present schedule. 

 “As we look at grades and where things ended up at the end of the first semester we see that there is quite a gap for some of our students who really need that support… so we need to see at least half a day, the morning up through lunch, where there is some academic engagement,” Fehrman said. 

Senior SGA member Julian Fortuna suggested that teachers be given the authority to mandate specific students to join tutorial sessions and extra help in a more needs-based approach. 

“I think that by allowing teachers to invite or mandate the attendance of certain kids who either are down on work or appear to be struggling grade-wise would be more effective compared to just mandating a 20 minute period for every single student to attend and take up the teachers bandwidth to teach to those kids who truly need it,” Fortuna said. 

Deweese agreed with the earlier points made on the non-necessity of more mandatory check-in time with students. 

“Having additional whole class time is merely just going to add more synchronous class time which is more of the same. That would be splitting teacher attention amongst a large group of students as opposed to focusing on students with definite needs,” DeWeese said.

The SLT Board ended the Wellness Wednesday section of the meeting by thanking students for expressing their opinions, and Dr. Fehrman further emphasized the importance of thinking of every student’s needs at DHS. 

“I don’t think it needs to be 100% of the students engaging 100% of the time in that 20 minutes. But I do think we need to create some outlines to help show that we are providing that extra support for the students that do need it,” Fehrman said. 

Lofstrand further emphasized the approximately 100 emails she received from students and reiterated that the school board is working towards incorporating a modified Wellness Wednesday that listens to the complaints of high school students. Lofstrand personally wants to find more options for flexibility in the schedule than creating mandatory times. 

 “I have definitely heard all of your needs so I will be working with Dr. Fehrman and we will be reading over everything and coming up with hopefully a flexible plan that meets the needs specifically of our 9th grade through 12th-grade students,”  Lofstrand said. 

Lofstrand noted that plans for Wellness Wednesday would be solidified by Feb.1. Until then, the week of Jan. 18 there will be no school Wednesday due to Martin Luther King Junior Day. The week of Jan. 25 there will be no virtual learning that Tuesday because of the PSAT tests available for Sophomores and Juniors. 

Furthermore, Fehrman reiterated that the purpose of modifying Wellness Wednesday is to benefit the students that do not or can not communicate their needs like the student present at this meeting.

“I know that the students that are on this call maybe are much higher achieving students, really pushing themselves, very eager to do what is necessary, but there is a large group of our students that are not being successful that we need to make sure we’re providing them that extra support.”