Doing well by being well
“We learn the social norms of our society and modify our behavior accordingly.”
“Do well by being well.” This has been the mantra of Keystone’s Head of Upper School Bill Spedding for years.
As we see again and again, Keystone students perform at an admirably high level, and they give their all in everything they do. We can revel in our Cobras’ accomplishments whether they are having their first formal educational experience at the Little School, becoming stronger writers in the lower school, participating on the robotics team in middle school, or earning awards in the middle and high school Science Fair. They compete with enthusiasm on our sports teams; similarly, they impress us with their beautiful artwork, their performances on stage, or their playing music like the middle school Encore class at a Friday night concert a couple of weeks ago.
In this petri dish of extraordinary academic accomplishment and extracurricular success, how do we ensure that children flourish physically and mentally? We want them to achieve their dreams but not at the expense of their well-being. An emphasis on wellness has led Keystone to develop a number of initiatives over the past few years. In addition, our current strategic plan identifies student well-being as a major area of focus. Whether we are hosting the movie “Angst” for middle school students and parents, or freshmen are learning about physical fitness and nutrition in the ninth grade wellness class, we aspire for students to develop healthy habits that will help them manage stress. The Upper School Wellness Council, comprised of students in ninth through twelfth grade and facilitated by counselors Alison Raymer and Dr. Erica Shapiro, plan and implement a number of programs throughout the year ranging from yoga in the quad to stress-relieving activities during exams. In addition, starting in 2017, Keystone has partnered with Healthy Futures of Texas to provide sex education for students in the upper school.
To help our young people make informed decisions about the potential use of substances, Keystone has hosted educators from a program called Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) since 2017. FCD utilizes a social norms approach where students move beyond the rumors and myths of how many of their peers are engaged in risky behavior. If students understand that their peers abstain from substance use and abuse, they are more likely to avoid drugs and alcohol.
Last week, Eduardo Torres from FCD met with students and teachers in small groups, and held a session for parents in the theater. Again and again, he shared both good news and words of caution. He reported that among all the learning institutions he has visited, including in San Antonio and around the world, there is only one other school where he has met with students who are so open and honest, and their social norms are so healthy. He said, “healthy choices are celebrated in the Keystone community,” and as a result, this is an environment that is uniquely ripe for learning. He stressed that our students were willing to be open, share their perceptions on drugs, and listen respectfully to the viewpoints of others. He emphasized in a conversation with me that “students celebrate their peers’ good choices, and they want to invest in their long-term health.” Torres pointed to what he sees as a “rare and supportive environment for adolescents to bring out their higher order and future-oriented thinking that is combined with exceptional moral reasoning.” As opposed to other schools, where the group norms encourage substance abuse, students at Keystone feel safe to proclaim that they don’t drink or do drugs; consequently, peer pressure promotes healthy life choices.
Eduardo’s praise came with a strong caution. He warned against complacency and the need for us to beware of some issues in general and some that may be more severe here than in other schools. On the cautionary front for all schools, we should watch for the increasing threat of marijuana abuse as it becomes legalized in more states. For those young adults who may perceive pot as “not all that bad,” this is not the marijuana of previous generations. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the content of pot was one to three percent THC and zero to point one percent CBD, with the CBD counteracting the psycho-acitve effects of THC. Today, a typical joint has 17-99% THC, and almost no CBD or none at all. Consequently, today’s pot is much more potent.
In addition, while vaping is not popular among our Cobras right now, the threat remains. A February 17 story from National Public Radio called “Parents:Teens Are Still Vaping, Despite Flavor Ban. Here’s What They Are Using” discusses the increase in disposable instruments for vaping. These tools, which look like thumb drives, deliver an extremely high dose of nicotine masked by a sweet flavor so children may be completely unaware of the threat to their health.
Keystone’s high performing students may also be more susceptible to certain tendencies than other children. Torres recommended that as a community we continue to help children learn how to manage stress and recognize their potential for perfectionism. Like all schools, we should continue to watch for the signs of anxiety and depression, and help young women develop healthy body images. Although Eduardo emphasized that overall, our student body embodies a healthier mindset than any other school he has visited (except for a similar school in Silicon Valley) we need to exercise vigilance.
As with the ISAS Visiting Team a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Torres left Keystone feeling that our students are happy and healthy. We can and should celebrate the excellent work they do and the wonderful people they are. And we should regularly recommit to their “doing well by being well.”