Stephanie Cantillo is the Chief Human Resources officer at Pace. PHOTO: Pace Academy

Pace has various initiatives designed to improve student mental health, such as the SAB, which is a student-led group intended to spread awareness for different mental health problems frequently seen in students at school. But what about our teachers? Are they getting the mental health support that they need? Chief Human Resources (HR) Officer Stephanie Cantillo is one of the main faculty members, along with the guidance counselors and Jon-Paul Keenan, also part of HR, who addresses the serious topic of faculty mental health. Ms. Cantillo was new to Pace last year, but she has already played an important role in improving the school.

“It can be hard to be the best employee or the best teacher or the best parent if you are not taking care of yourself,” said Ms. Cantillo. Some students may not realize this, but teachers can only best support their students if they are taking care of their own health and mental well-being. New to Pace last year, Ms. Cantillo did not know what to expect, but she was immediately impressed by Pace. “I have been really impressed by all the different people across the campus who have been involved and really dedicated to promoting mental wellness for all of our community, faculty and students” she explained. “I really appreciated knowing and feeling that the school community really cares about its people.”

She further elaborated on already existent Pace programs, saying, “I know there is a psychologist that comes to campus once a week who is available to meet with students, faculty and staff and even parents when there are concerns; there are several programs that the school has put into place to promote health and wellness among the teachers to make sure that we are providing as many tools and resources as possible.” These are just some of the ways Pace stands out in its ability to support the mental health of its community.

Part of Ms. Cantillo’s job in human resources is to help decide what benefits to implement for the employees’ mental and emotional wellness. This year, Pace has worked with its partners at Cigna to highlight all of the mental health resources that Pace employees have available to them. “Another thing we did just to promote wellness in general was kind of like a promotion for healthy eating that was last year around the holiday break, and we gave everyone gift cards to Whole Foods and sent out healthy recipes and reminders for self care over the break,” explained Ms. Cantillo. She continued, “During the spring semester, I sent out a survey to all the teachers and administrators to see kind of what wellness initiatives they are most excited about and interested in, and the survey results came back that they would like fitness challenges or something like that, so we are working toward implementing some of those ideas and creating a wellness committee that can help kind of cheerlead those efforts across campus.”

Pace had a wellness representative from Cigna host a seminar for the teachers and administrators about self-care and emotional well-being. This was a free informational offering for employees. “Pace has also sent out lots of reminders with links and different resources just so people remember to take a breath and take care of themselves, so they can again in turn help take care of the students,” said Ms. Cantillo.

Ms. Cantillo connected the concept of prioritizing faculty mental health first to a famous analogy. “In terms of an oxygen mask, right when you are on a plane, they tell the adults put your oxygen mask on first before you put one on your child. That is a very common analogy for what it’s like to be an adult but also being responsible to take care of students or your own children.” This is an important reminder for adults, who sometimes forget that their health is a priority, too.

The good news is that it appears that these initiatives will not be stopping anytime soon. “I have been working with the counselors to plan a presentation. We did a whole mindfulness rotation, where there were three different workshops the teachers could rotate through, and one of the offerings was mindfulness. That was at the beginning of the year in what we call preplanning,” Ms. Cantillo explained. “I’ve been working with the counselors to come up with some programming where we can inform all the faculty and staff of what their options are.” Her goal is for the faculty to be informed about what is available to them if they are struggling or need extra support.

Additionally, she and the counselors are going to hold a presentation, probably in the next month or two, to make sure everyone is aware of their different accessible resources. She also wants to do a wellness fair. “We would have several tables set up and different vendors come in again, and I am thinking about a massage therapist, or somebody from a chiropractic office, but we’d have to be careful obviously around COVID-19 and make sure everyone is spread out,” she said. “We have also talked about maybe doing a healthy cooking class. I know we will get to do these, it may just take time to spread it out and make it fit into everyone’s schedule.” 

Ms. Cantillo stressed, “I don’t do it alone,” as she explained that she works with the counselors, Mr. Keenan and the head of school. It is thanks to them that there are many initiatives at Pace for mental health.

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