Pursuing Happiness: An Outlet for Mental Health at Mendham

West Morris Mendham High School highlights mental health awareness in various forms,  including incorporating wellness into Physical Education classes, adding delayed openings into the calendar, and hosting after school activities with the help of school clubs. For 11 years, Ms. Jennifer Feury has been teaching English at Mendham, and this year she is teaching English 3 IB-HL and IB-SL, Creative Writing, as well as an elective she established in 2020, Pursuing Happiness. 

In the past ten years since Ms. Feury began working at Mendham, the CDC has reported a 40% increase in “high school students experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” (CDC.gov). Concerned with the well-being of students, Ms. Feury successfully petitioned for a class where students could learn, share, and de-stress in a healthy classroom environment. 

Pursuing Happiness has been taught for three years, and this is the first year where Ms. Fuery feels her true lesson plans and activities can be shown, as this is the first normal year since the class was established at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Fuery adds that “[a] lot has changed, just in terms of stress levels…. pressure…. [and] the pursuit of achievement.” The motivating factor for her to start this class was to help alleviate some of this pressure and the constant “go go mentality” she felt both she and her students were in. Ms. Fuery also provided information as to how the class was structured; “[w]e go through essentially five areas of wellbeing and take a look at the impact of each.” She then explained, “[w]e do a lot of reflection, so when we try a new strategy… I always have them reflect afterward and it’s

It’s all about creating balance.

— Ms. Jennifer Feury

what was the impact, how did this feel, how did this go?” Activities like these help the class, including herself, realize that there is still good happening, which “creates that switch in perspective.”

Although this class is open to any grade level, the class majority is made up of upperclassmen. We interviewed students taking this class to get a better understanding of the class’s impact on students’ lives. Senior Nicole Anastacio had nothing but positive feedback for the class, mentioning how “it’s just nice to let everything out and have one class period where I can talk about anything and just… let loose.” This response has been a common theme seen through student interviews, and all students have mentioned how much they enjoy the journaling component of the class. Another senior, Eleanor Dressel, with no hesitation, spoke about the improvement the class had on her mental health.“I’m glad I took it, it’s just a laid-back class and we learn new techniques on how to deal with life.” Marty Mahoney added how “For that hour in the class, it makes me happier.”

With the elective being fairly new and the obstacles of COVID restrictions, Pursuing Happiness has still managed to positively impact Mendham’s students. These changes initiated by Pursuing Happiness creates several opportunities for Mendham staff to support their students in the future.