The question was fairly simple, not to mention obvious. Why are you, Kacey Wilson, spending time on the Pearson campus this summer?
But the answer was delightful — and spoke volumes about the cross-pollination of ideas and the commitment to student health and wellness that benefits all 17 UWC schools around the world.
“There were two serendipitous encounters,” said Wilson, a wellness counsellor and health support teacher at UWC Mahindra in India.
“One was Libby Mason visiting Mahindra — she really offered a lot of support in a short time to many of us and she brought a language of appreciative inquiry and coaching models that helped refine some of our team processes in a beautiful way,” said Wilson. Mason, a Pearson College UWC faculty member and former Dean of Students, spent part of a recent academic leave visiting and working with four other UWCs around the world.
“Then, one of the students who was also a peer supporter I was working with (at Mahindra), was selected to be one of the animators for the PSYL (Pearson Seminar on Youth Leadership) program.”
PSYL is a three-week, interactive and experiential learning program that offers a UWC experience for students in grades 10-12 (ages 15-18). More and more UWC schools are offering or weighing the possibility of offering “off-season” programs. Also prompted by a Mahindra staff member interested in PSYL, Wilson began her own research.
“I started reading about PSYL and I was blown away, so I talked to Libby and asked if she thought I could get in touch with (PSYL Director) Michelle Clark,” said Wilson. “I talked to our Head and Deputy Head and asked how they would feel about this?”
They were supportive and, “Michelle was really receptive and said, ‘you are very welcome to come and observe!’ It’s really beautiful what they are learning and studying — at the age of 15 and 16 I was not are having these conversations!”
Wilson, already equipped with a Masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Prevention Science and Counseling Psychology, added, “I really felt I had something to learn…that there is a conversation happening at PSYL that seems to be at the heart of what UWCs stand for.”
Wilson heard about UWC after moving to India from her U.S. home, and a career that took her to a teaching role in Brazil, to further deepen her studies of Ayurveda, a holistic approach to health and lifestyle originally developed on the subcontinent. An enquiry to the nearby Mahindra school was positive and Wilson found herself volunteering at the school for three months.
The school’s response reflected a strong and growing commitment to overall mental, as well as physical health and wellness on the part of leadership throughout the UWC movement.
“I offered yoga classes and was available to talk to students if they needed stress management or to work with them on building mindfulness skills around learning techniques for self-care, looking at a daily routine – often simply navigating time management challenges.”
Wilson emphasized that the school already had resources and support for students, but the size of the school (240 students) meant that additional resources were always welcome.
“I am really lucky to work with a team. We have a full medical staff on campus (and nearby consulting specialists) — we work together in conjunction with the Head of Student Life, advisors and others who may need to be drawn in to support student wellness.
“We act as a triage team – to identify if students present with a medical, psychiatric, a learning challenge or a daily lifestyle concern, such as are they getting enough sleep, are they eating properly, are they managing their time properly?
“(Pearson Dean of Students) Julia Clark and I were talking about this this the other day – what often falls off the plate first is sleep and once sleep goes, it’s very hard for students to have healthy movement, exercise and healthy diet and, in general, to find a healthy balance in the day which means they end up playing catch-up a lot.”
The wealth of academic, experiential, community service and other opportunities available to students at UWC schools can be intimidating and sometimes overwhelming. Combine that with youthful FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) “on all the amazing opportunities at this and every UWC,” means life balance needs to be addressed from time to time.
Observing and working with a program such as PSYL at a different UWC school gave Wilson the opportunity to also consider the holistic experience for young people from around the world who, at a very early point in their lives, make a commitment a global education. “My intentions in visiting the PSYL program were to learn more about how social and emotional learning capacities are taught to this age group in an experiential manner and UWC setting.
“One of the things I’m taking back is a deeper appreciation for the power of transformational learning and experiential education,” she added.
“So much of the work offered by UWC schools happens in an embodied, lived experience which is not just the transfer of knowledge but the transference of shared experiences and the building of a new repertoire of how to see self, how to see others in a historical context in a way that beautifully acknowledges the complexity of the world that we’ve inherited, the work that needs to be done as a result of what we’ve inherited and the hopes of where we might be able to go if we can do certain work together.
“That’s at the heart of what they are teaching (at PSYL). I’m seeing that the participants get it! I’m seeing it sink in and I’m seeing it shift the way they interact with each other in the short time they’ve been here. I’ve seen the coordinators grow and expand in their capacities to have these conversations and prioritizing their time to reflect and debrief and be in the emergent experience of it and really keep asking, ‘what’s next?’
“Personally, I’ve greatly benefited from the cross-collaboration of the UWC schools in sharing best practices and knowledge and I really hope that that continues across all UWCs!”