Making An Impact

Over the past year, Marlborough psychologists, teachers, and coaches have come together to further expand the health and wellness curriculum in support of students’ school/life balance and self-empowerment.

“We are constantly having conversations about how to take care of our girls and how to empower them to take care of themselves,” shares Head of School Dr. Priscilla Sands. ”We’re thinking about the whole girl, what she’s going through, how it feels, and why it’s important she take care of herself both mentally and physically.” 

Dr. Marisa LaDuca Crandall, Director of Educational and Counseling Services, helped to spearhead the new initiatives, focusing on providing students with important life skills to self-regulate and self-advocate when faced with the daily stress of school, family, and friends.

“What we know about the brain is that you really can’t learn if you’re not available to learn, which includes your ability to be present, to have the appropriate attention levels, and to be in an emotional state that is receptive,” explains Dr. Crandall. “If you're highly activated in a negative way, such as anxious, worried, scared, or angry, this can actually impede the brain functioning that is required for learning, memory, and critical thinking.” 

Dr. Crandall worked closely with Dr. Sands,  Associate Head of Academics Laura Hotchkiss, School Psychologist Morgan Duggan, Athletics Director & Physical Education Department Head Sheila Pauley, and Health and Wellness Instructor Nicole Beck. Together they developed the current Middle School health curriculum, which is based on the Collaboration for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework. This framework focuses on five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

In seventh grade, students learn about identity and how they define themselves, body confidence and body image, sexual orientation, STI and HIV prevention, stress and depletion, and empathy skills. 

“Boundaries and healthy relationships come up several times during the seventh-grade year,” says Ms. Beck. “We’re teaching them how to connect with other students in a safe way. Even if someone looks different from me, or grew up in a different type of house than I did, how do I connect with her as a human being that doesn’t jeopardize or ostracize either one of us?”

Seventh graders also learn how to develop a self-care “toolkit” that includes an ever-evolving set of skills they can practice regularly and put into use when they’re facing a stressful situation or haven’t had enough sleep. 

The eighth-grade curriculum includes sexuality, consent, and verbal assertiveness, and ninth grade includes a comprehensive health class including topics like nutrition, pregnancy and prevention, and gender identity. 


The learning continues In Upper School, when students have an opportunity to learn how to protect themselves physically, through our self-defense elective called IMPACT.

Lisa Gaeta, Athletics & Physical Education Instruction and Co-Author of “The Safety Godmothers,” is IMPACT certified and teaches the class with the assistance a of a padded assailant instructor. The IMPACT vision is to minimize the fear of being a victim through verbal skills, healthy boundary setting, understanding your personal power, adrenaline and fear management skills, and learning real-world physical self-defense skills with muscle memory training.

“IMPACT is one of the most useful electives I’ve taken at Marlborough,” shares Coco K.-P. ’21. “I was surprised that we don’t just learn physical skills, but also how to talk our way out of a dangerous situation. We’ve also addressed situations where someone you’re familiar with, like a cousin or family member, is making you uncomfortable. Mrs. Gaeta always tells us to encourage ourselves, because if you put yourself down, you’re going to feel like you can’t win this fight. But when I encourage myself, I feel stronger. I feel more confident.” 

The full Upper School health curriculum is still in the development phase, and Beck is working with a focus group of current 11th and 12th grade students who are sharing what they want to learn. This will be used to develop curriculum for next semester.


An additional layer of support for all students is the new Advisory program. Students are grouped with the same small group of peers and the same faculty advisor for each of their three years in Middle School and then regrouped for their three years in Upper School. This fosters a safe environment with peers, as well as provides students with an additional adult support.

“I feel very comfortable talking to my advisor about issues that are weighing down my mental or emotional health,” shares Mikaela M. ’21. “The advisor acts as someone who can help us deal with problems that arise within our friend groups or social life, and the different challenges we face in an academically intensive school.”

“We really get to know the people in our advisory and learn how to reach out for help, even if we’re in a place where we want to close everyone off,” adds Mikaela. “Advisory is our support system.”

“We want students to leave Marlborough with resiliency so that they can negotiate and manage anything the world will throw at them,” says Dr. Crandall. “We want them to be whole people, changing the world as strong, assertive women who know who they are and who support each other.”


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