Student Wellness Program
With its concerted effort on holistic health and well-being, Paramus Catholic High School helps its students and staff feel safe, secure, and empowered
While a high school’s academic curriculum is critical, a strong academics program is just one of many elements required to create a positive and productive educational environment. Perhaps no one knows this better that Dr. Stephanie Macaluso, Principal of Paramus Catholic High School. A Catholic, co-educational, college preparatory high school within the Archdiocese of Newark where the overall well-being of the school’s more than 1,100 9th-12th graders and 126 faculty members is a top priority.
“Our Student Wellness Program was launched four years ago as part of our overarching school philosophy, which emphasizes a holistic approach towards our students and faculty,” Dr. Macaluso said. “We believe that an individual’s maximum potential is achieved through the combination of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. As a result, we support and have created programs that promote balance among those key pillars.”
Understanding that students need downtime to relax, pursue their own hobbies and interests, and spend time with their family, “we have mandated that no tests be scheduled, or homework be due on Mondays to enable students to enjoy a freer weekend,” said Dr. Macaluso, who noted that the policy also extends to faculty (e.g., end-of-marking-period grades are not due on Mondays) so that they too can enjoy a more relaxing weekend.
While the school’s current hybrid program offers students a 100% remote option and alternates the days on which its two groups of in-school students are on campus, “Fridays are virtual learning days for everyone, which offers a breather to both in-school students as well as teachers, who can instruct from home,” she said. “In addition, on the first and third Friday of each month, we have Wellness Friday, at which time the school day ends early at 12:30. The shortened class schedule gives students, faculty, and staff time to recharge.”
Student wellness is promoted in numerous other ways at Paramus Catholic. Among them, “students are empowered to voice their concerns through an open forum we created called the Principal’s Impact Team,” Dr. Macaluso said. Designed to bring “the voice of the hallways” to administrators’ attention, “I make myself available on the first Tuesday of each month to meet with any students who want to take up any matter and have their concerns, questions, or requests heard,” she said. Topics addressed in the past have included everything from healthier menu options in the cafeteria to classroom issues, the prom venue, and even the school’s pandemic protocols.
“For example, we created one-way pathways in our hallways to promote social distancing and some students recently shared that they had to walk around the entire building under time pressure to get to a classroom close by but inaccessible due to the new directional mandates,” Dr. Macaluso said. “The students asked if we could make our wide center hallway two-way and, after confirming that the measurements supported it, we agreed to their request. This platform has empowered students and they know that if they want some kind of action, they should bring it to the table and their voices will be heard.”
Achieving Maximum Potential
Continual efforts are also undertaken to make school enjoyable and engaging, especially in the virtual realm.
“We were all virtual for a few weeks last fall and did not want the students to feel disconnected from school, so we changed up the format and had administrators doing homeroom announcements, the greeting of the day, and the prayer of the day,” Dr. Macaluso shared. “We also ran a fun activity where students and faculty members made videos of themselves sharing some of the different activities they pursued during the pandemic. Our students and staff took up everything from knitting to cooking, scrapbooking, and more and it was a great way for everyone to stay connected in the virtual world.”
According to Dr. Macaluso, students also play a pivotal role in the school’s annual and collaborative faith-filled project. “In the past two years, we studied beatitudes and the stations of the cross and this year we are studying the rosary,” she said. “On the first Tuesday of each month, we say a decade of the Rosary and discuss its meaning together, and each student received a set of Rosary beads for Christmas. Our annual Christmas card and Holy card are also designed by our students.”
“The more you give students ownership of their school, the more they will enjoy the experience,” said Dr. Macaluso, who invited Paramus Catholic students to propose the topics and activities to be featured during Catholic School Week in early February. Per their suggestions, “we’ll be celebrating such topics as ‘students and peers,’ ‘the nation,’ ‘vocations,’ and ‘faculty, staff, and volunteers,’ and as a schoolwide service project, we are collecting donations to help fund lunch for the frontline heroes at 2-3 urgent care medical facilities in our community.”
“Students can only achieve their maximum potential when they feel safe, secure, and content, and achieving that requires a balance of spiritual, emotional, academic, and physical well-being,” Dr. Macaluso concluded. “Paramus Catholic students and staff members all see the extensive measures we have taken to promote their safety and they know that their holistic wellness is our top priority.”