Good to Go Blog
At St. John's, good knows no bounds. It's greater than great academics. Here are snapshots of what it means at the Prep. Something amazing happens when you're open to good!
As students depart for more than a week off from school, just a dash of clever planning over vacation can help insure a smooth transition back to the books. Find out how...
Conor Dowley, School Counselor: Students should spend time over February break resting and re-calibrating their minds with some time off from their often busy schedules. During this time, students should involve themselves in pursuits that are enjoyable and productive. Building a routine that incorporates some form of exercise, reading what they enjoy, and a good night's sleep is a nice starting point. Spending some time reflecting on the current school year may inform decisions related to goals for the rest of the year (and course registration for next year) is also a good idea.
Dr. Nicole Zito, Middle School English: March can feel like a really long month, so use the break to rest and recharge. Reconnect with your town friends. Be with your family. Make a productive plan before the break starts. Then, savor each day. Try not to indulge in too much screen or get into those tough habits to break like staying up too late and sleeping through the next day. Before you head back into the classroom, take some time to get organized. Clean out your backpack and file any loose papers. Consider adding dates to your calendar for upcoming tests and projects or personal commitments that might impact the time you have to work on long assignments once you come back to campus.
Liz Liwo, Middle School Counselor: “Our department suggests students should use February vacation to relax and take some time to slow down. To keep your academic skills sharp, you should try to read for pleasure and get some extended sleep. Keep video/screen time to a reasonable minimum. Do your best to recharge your engines so you can be ready to finish the semester strong and keep away the late-winter blues.”
Mark Gafur, Middle School Counselor: “The most the most important thing is to recharge, so sleep well, get outside, and eat right. Even for students who are struggling, we suggest relaxing and recharging. However, you can keep skills up by using iXL for math practice as well as Khan Academy online. For English grammar practice, try the No Red Ink app. Don’t hesitate to pick up a book and read for pleasure as well.”
Lacey Allis, Center for Learning and Academic Success Coach: "Keep in mind: We’re still early in the quarter and there’s time to improve classroom effort and attention to detail on assignments. When you return to school, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the Writing Center, or meet with a Learning Coach through the “Ask a Coach” tab on the portal to ensure you’re headed in the right direction. Have confidence in yourself and remember that you have support of your peers, the Prep community and your family."Dr. Mark McManmon, Assistant Principal for Academics Grades 11 and 12: One of the big challenges of going into February break is losing momentum gained during the weeks since Christmas. But the school year can be challenging and sometimes a tough grind. Sleep, exercise, hang out with friends. Having fun is a great way to stay sharp and prepared for the return to school. The brain loves novelty, so switching things up is good for you. That said, it’s probably worth spending a little bit of time thinking about the last five weeks of the third quarter. Is there a research paper on the horizon? Has a novel been assigned that your English class will be finishing up? Is there a project just around the corner? While you don't have dive into everything over the break, it’s worth your time to map out what the five weeks between the end of break and the end of the quarter will look like. Will there be a week where a number of assignments are all do at once? If so, knowing this when you come back to campus can help you better manage your time and ease stress.
When Mark O’Connor ’20 traveled to Kyoto less than a month ago to visit his brother, a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Fuji, he found plenty to take in. Japan’s cultural epicenter for centuries, Kyoto boasts breathtaking ancient temples, vivid gardens, beloved shrines, and bustling streets. But when O’Connor and his family got the opportunity to meditate with a Zen Buddhist monk, the St. John’s Prep sophomore found a lot in common with the wellness practices he learned at St. John’s.
“I learned a lot from meditating in Ms. Kiley’s classes,” says O’Connor. “What we experienced in Japan was very similar to what we learned from Ms. Kiley.”
Mary Kiley’s Religious Studies class is by no means the only place on campus where students are encouraged to meditate. The Wellness Center hosts silent meditation every week from Monday through Thursday at 3 pm. At the Middle School, students are invited to meditate inside the Ford Family Student Center on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7:25 am to 7:50 am.
De-stress and refocus
“Students are always thinking, always engaged, and not necessarily on the task at hand,” says Steve Brown, director of the Wellness Center. “The act of stopping and taking the time to sit with only their breathing and their thoughts, or, especially, quieting the mind to the point of not having any particular thought, can be a huge challenge, but if they practice regularly, we find that they see improvements in focus, stress management, memory, and even experience an enhanced sense of compassion for others. The key is regular practice. Just like any other skill, it requires time, effort, and feedback.”
For his part, O’Connor is all-in.
“After learning more about the history of meditation and actually seeing monks that do it all day and how even keeled they are, it showed me even more how to calm myself in class and handle everyday stress,” he says. “Ms. Kiley does a great job of teaching her students how to meditate and you can definitely see the difference it makes for the students in her class. I love that the Prep offers students a chance to meditate and I think it’s definitely helped many students deal with stress and anxiety.”
“Research suggests that just three minutes of meditation daily makes a positive difference, so all of my classes begin that way,” adds Ms. Kiley. “Since it settles us all down, it’s a great way to start a class. A little bit like the disciplined training of an athlete or musician, the repetitive nature of seated meditation also lowers stress, facilitates spiritual growth and increases focus. Because our campus embraces this concept and lives it like an action verb, I think Prep students are learning how to better ‘live in the present moment’ by experiencing the discipline of meditation.”
Of the 12 men who entered the St. John’s Prep Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017, half of the honorees had been cut from what they viewed as their best and primary sport in high school. Of course, not every new athletic venture ends with a Hall of Fame induction. But the anecdote illustrates a greater truth: When it comes to personal growth in the context of physical movement, the Prep give students every opportunity to stay on top of their game.
For starters, more than half of the varsity sports offered at St. John’s (12 of 23) feature no-cut rosters. Add to that a trio of competitive club sports (Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo and powerlifting), along with 11 intramural recreational sports, including touch football, golf, squash and street hockey.
“One of the things that makes St. John’s so progressive in this area is that we’ve built a structure that provides students so much opportunity both inside and outside interscholastic sports,” says Billy McSheffrey, the strength & conditioning coordinator at the Wellness Center. “There’s a reason this is called the Wellness Center and not the athletic center. Our job is about inclusion. We have a recreational sports coordinator whose full-time job is to provide all different types of recreational activities for young men who otherwise wouldn’t be active because they’re not playing one of the varsity sports on campus.”
By nature, the fact that some athletic teams do make cuts means a subset of student-athletes receive suboptimal news. So, what happens then?
“We have good experience here with one or more doors opening when another closes,” says Steve Brown, director of the Wellness Center. “Our first choice is to support a young man in making an athletic choice by finding another team or individual sport. It’s important for kids to embrace that their response is within their control. What’s the next step? Where are you headed? We’re looking to give them the understanding that ‘there’s more to you than any single sport.’ Who you are as a person and an athlete isn’t dependent on making that one team.
“So often, if they take a chance and step outside their comfort zone, these young men find something that suits them even better,” he adds. “If that’s not immediately evident, we have built-in recreational sports programs that they frequently connect with in a way they never did with another sport. And it’s just as gratifying to see an active student-athlete try a recreational sport during the offseason, which then becomes a second competitive varsity sport for them down the line.”
An added dimension of the Prep’s wellness initiative is giving freshmen the freedom to fulfill their semester PE requirement before, during or after school. Students in grade 9 can choose from PE options like mountain biking, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu along with indoor rowing, CrossFit training, Introduction to Strength and Conditioning and even a Couch to 5K course.
“We want the young man in Model U.N. or the robotics club, or the young man who’s fully committed to Campus Ministry or the one who’s never played a competitive sport in his life to feel just as welcomed here at the Wellness Center as any varsity captain,” says McSheffrey. “There is a physical aspect to every kid’s own personal wellness that should be just as important to them as it is to anyone here who plays a sport. It doesn’t matter what your chosen ‘performance’ is. You could be the lead in the school play or be playing a sport or participating in another school activity that gives you a competitive outlet; this physical piece of everyone’s personal wellness can help you prepare for that.”
To what extent can the sports and fitness philosophy at the Prep accommodate any student who walks in? This past semester’s Couch to 5K class, for example, included exactly one student.“Every kid should feel like there’s a home for them here,” says Vin Miserandino, chairman of the Physical Education Department, who conducted the class. “We had a blast. By the end of the course, I couldn’t keep up with the kid.”
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