STUDY OF WELLNESS INCREASES IN IMPORTANCE
When Brad Kuntz’s newest class began in December 2019, students sat in a circle on soft cushions on the floor.
They were surrounded by periwinkle walls, murals and low-key lighting, all there to take the newest class at Gladstone High School — the Study of Wellness and Happiness.
From global issues such as climate change and COVID-19 to the angst of social media and academic pressure, teens across the nation have experienced unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, apathy and depression. Still an advisor to the Student Senate and a Spanish teacher, Kuntz was motivated by world events to take action.
“When students look into the world, the problems seem insurmountable,” Kuntz said. “I want to give them tools to create a meaningful life, increase positive emotions and connect with others.”
Founded on brain science, the new course is based on the most popular class at Yale, Psychology and the Good Life, and a similar class at Stanford. Gladstone High had planned to offer one section of the new elective, but when 25% of the student body rushed to sign up, the program expanded.
The class studies neuroscience and psychology, why people have certain emotions, ways to focus on gratitude and how to savor their experiences. They also learn ways to increase empowerment and how to alter negative self-talk.
“What surprised me most was the diversity of students who took the class,” Kuntz said. “This was an opportunity for popular kids and jocks to connect in meaningful ways with kids they never noticed before. We created a community where students felt safe enough to open up and share.”
Class topics ranged from overcoming trauma and how to create a meaningful life to goal setting, motivation, and identifying personal values and principles.
“This adds brain science to our K-12 wellness program, combining behavioral science and positive psychology,” Kuntz said. “It will give students lifelong tools.”
For the winter trimester of 2021, the class began with online instruction via Zoom, a challenging format for Kuntz to teach from, but a challenge that paid off.
“This class was needed even before the pandemic, with high levels of stress and depression seen among teens in our county,” said Gladstone High Principal Kevin Taylor. “Given the isolation, stress and uncertainties caused by the pandemic, this course is now more important than ever.”
Currently the class is working on the importance of purposeful growth and the hesitation of leaving your comfort zone.
“We often get so comfy in our comfort zone that it becomes difficult to take the necessary healthy risks to grow,” Kuntz said. “We forget there’s a ‘growth zone.’ We sometimes assume if we leave our comfort zone, we’ll be completely unsafe. But the growth zone is where we create our lives instead of letting our lives happen to us.”
Kuntz helps illustrate the zones with three concentric circles, with the bullseye in the center of the circle representing the comfort zone where you can remain unchallenged with a safe, easy, stable and boring life.
While the growth zone around may include some stress, it also allows for learning and meaningful change. The key, Kuntz said, is not to extend yourself too far to the ‘panic zone’ on the outside of the target where you’re likely to shut down from too much fear and anxiety.