PARIS – Oxford Hills Middle School will hold its first Wellness Day on March 3, a daylong series of workshops designed to promote the overall well-being of students.

There will be no classes that day, only workshops. Sarah Shepley, a Paris artist and parent who is a co-organizer of the event, said Tuesday that the workshops, some of which will be theatrical or musical, will focus on empowering boys and girls and hopefully reducing the negative impact of media messages that surround them in popular culture.

“It is all part of trying to support young people through what can be a very difficult time,” she said.

For example, Shepley said girls are bombarded by media images that depict very-thin female bodies as the epitome of beauty, while boys receive messages through television, magazines, and other forms of media that objectify women and promote violence.

“We’re concerned about the impact of media, particularly at ages 13 and 14, in our society, and the impact of peer pressure,” she said. “Part of our vision (with Wellness Day) is to provide an interdisciplinary experience … and to promote healthy, balanced relationships, and foster a positive environment that stimulates and supports the educational and personal needs of the school community.”

Wellness Day is sponsored by SAD 17, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Healthy Oxford Hills. Shepley organized the event along with Jeanie Stone, school-based educator at the Rape Education and Crisis Hotline, and Katey Branch, a parent of Oxford Hills middle-school students who has been involved with youth empowerment workshops.

Shepley said she envisioned the idea for Wellness Day after a media literacy workshop last year that focused on the negative impact of media on young people. She said media images can lead to problems for young people including eating disorders among girls, who see ultra-thin actresses and models and believe that is the way they are supposed to look to be considered physically attractive.

“It teaches our young women to value the way they look instead of building leadership skills, intuition and compassion, all the qualities that are eternal,” she said.

A keynote speech will be delivered by Lelia DeAndade from the Center for Hate Crime Prevention that will address the impact of language and behavior on self and others.

Several different workshops will be held throughout the day by guest presenters, including one focusing on the difficulties involved with addictions whether it is food, drugs or something else.

Other workshops will include media literacy, self defense, self expression and nutrition. Students also will have opportunities to relax by participating in workshops focusing on yoga, breathing techniques to relieve stress, and dance.

Shepley said Wellness Day could become a biannual event, and organizers are hoping to create a Respect Team in the middle school that is similar to the Respect Team already in place at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

The high-school team works with elementary school students to prevent bullying and aggressive behavior at young ages.

Anyone interested in supporting Wellness Day or obtaining more information may contact Shepley by phone at 743-0167 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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