Guest post by Jeff Simon

While many of us are making resolutions for 2017 to lose weight, save money, and live life to the fullest, Payson High School students are hard at work planning our annual Student Wellness Conference, an award-winning event devoted to helping students become their best selves.

In 2010, Payson’s art teacher George Conley organized a Depression Awareness Day that featured three sessions and a video to raise awareness and combat student depression. Since then, this event has evolved into the Student Wellness Conference, a conference-style day that brings together local and regional experts to address a wide range of wellness topics. In the summer of 2014, the state of Arizona recognized our Student Wellness Conference with the Achievement in Action Award.

Wellness is more than just not being sick. As the World Health Organization states, “Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.” Our approach to wellness is comprehensive, and we use this event to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to understand and practice physical, social, occupational, intellectual, and cultural wellness.

The conference begins and ends with keynote speakers who discuss the idea of wellness and offer practical advice on general wellness strategies. Between the keynotes, students participate in four 45-minute breakout sessions, with sessions one and two in the morning, and sessions three and four in the afternoon.

The breakouts offer students over 40 different options of wellness topics, ranging from fun sessions like yoga, Zumba, and mixed martial arts to more serious ones, including eating disorders, personal finance, and suicide prevention. In addition, upperclassmen can attend a career fair and explore postsecondary education options. Students receive a program before the conference and sign up digitally for the sessions they want to attend. Picking sessions in this way gives students a safe, easy way to get the help they need for the issues and challenges in their lives. To see the full list of session options, please view the conference program.

Presenters for the breakout sessions are vetted and include a variety of school staff and community members. The Payson Police Department runs a session called When You Turn 18 that discusses what it means to be a legal adult. The Time Out Shelter holds a Teen Dating Violence session to teach students how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and how to avoid it. And Tim Wright, a local attorney, offers a session on The Cost of a Habit, which explores all of the costs—financial and more—associated with bad habits.

Involving the staff and local community gives them a chance to share what they know and love with students. And it gives students an opportunity to see the adults in their lives doing something outside of the school realm and to see that life extends beyond the walls of Payson High School. The staff and community have embraced this event and show their commitment not only by presenting, but also by offering financial support and material donations.

What we want for students is to connect to something through the Wellness Conference. It is our hope that all students find an interest to help them enjoy their lives more, skills to help them cope with their daily struggles, and information to help them make wise decisions. Most of all, we want students to understand that everyone can benefit from learning and sharing strategies to tackle all of life’s challenges.

In what ways does your school encourage students to think actively about their overall well-being?

Jeff Simon is the assistant principal of Payson High School in Payson, AZ, which serves 784 students in grades 9–12. He is the 2016 Arizona Assistant Principal of the Year.

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