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'Pausing, reflecting, and learning' at upper school Wellness Day

Lauren Wynn '24 practices a self-defense move

Gathered in groups throughout the Harpeth Hall gym, girls put on punch mitts to serve as padded targets to practice sparring. Getting in ready position, they learned jabs, knee strikes, and extrication techniques all as part of a mid-morning self-defense class that focused on personal empowerment and taught the girls safety techniques to use in any questionable situation.

The workshop, which also featured lessons on how to scan a scene such as a college campus, recognize warning signs, create distance between themselves and a potential attacker, and extricate themselves from a situation as safely as possible, was one of the many activities that Harpeth Hall upper school students participated in during this year’s Wellness Day.

The Harpeth Hall counseling department designed Wellness Day as a conference where each student in grades 9-12 had the opportunity to personalize her experience by choosing three workshops she would like to attend. Local mental health and wellness experts came to campus and offered 15 different sessions on a range of topics such as self-defense, managing anxiety, self-compassion, and the effects of high-risk behavior on the adolescent brain.

“Wellness Day is an important part of every school year where we get to pause, reflect, and learn about how essential our minds and bodies really are,” senior Riley Kate Higgins said. “It is easy to get caught up in school routines, so it is refreshing for the entire upper school to take that time to learn from community members and each other about how to take care of ourselves. Everyone walks away from Wellness Day with a new piece of advice that they can not only take with them but also share with others.”

Jean Broadhurst Palmer '11

Harpeth Hall alumna Jean Broadhurst Palmer '11 was one of the visiting experts. With a master’s in social work from Rutgers University and a master’s in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, Ms. Palmer specializes in self-esteem, trauma, and anxiety. She spoke to students about how shame impacts a person’s daily life and is a shared human experience. The answer, Ms. Palmer said, is self-compassion and empathy.

“There is so much value in learning from people outside our immediate Harpeth Hall community,” Riley Kate said. “I really cherished being able to listen to people's stories, career experiences, and life advice that are entirely different from my own experiences or what I have been told before. Wellness Day helps me put into perspective how diverse the world is, and it reminds me always to be mindful of the emotions and experiences of others.”

Other visiting facilitators spoke about topics such as how social media influences the perception of body image and how ditching the polarizing trends of perfectionism and hypercriticism can foster balance.

“I learned that there’s something called body neutrality,” said senior Emme Ford, who attended a workshop on self-image. “Where you shouldn’t give yourself negative feedback about yourself, nor should you strive for perfection, you should just be neutral and happy with yourself.”

Sydney Mattoon '23 dances in a movement class

Wellness Day is not only about having a healthy mind but also about having a healthy body. To get them moving, the girls experienced fun physical activities that included a hip-hop cardio class led by Harpeth Hall dance instructor Carrie Farmer, Tai Chi with faculty member Jingli Jurca, and a dance blast class led by Harpeth Hall parent Mary Cady Bolin.

“I learned how important movement is for the human body and overall wellness,” said senior Sydney Mattoon, whose favorite Wellness Day experience was dancing. “While different exercises such as breathing and journaling are also helpful strategies for managing stress, I learned how much movement can help as well in improving my mood and lowering my overall stress levels.”

The girls also learned how to keep their bodies safe. Harpeth Hall security guard Maricella Ticknor, who is an experienced law enforcement officer, led a class on signs to look for in dangerous situations. The girls also took a self-defense class that taught punches, knee kicks, and a Wellness Day favorite — how to break boards with their bare hands.

“I really enjoy the active component of Wellness Day,” Riley Kate said. “Whether that be breaking boards, practicing self-defense moves, or getting some Zumba mixed into my day, having a physical outlet as a way to destress is immeasurably valuable. Being able to relax while using my friends as punching bags and learning essential self-defense moves is an experience I can only get during Wellness Day.”