When the Walker Family established the Walker Institute for Wellness at Kent Denver in 2020, Dr. Sheila Ohlsson Walker already had an expansive understanding of the importance of the subject—down to the molecular level—thanks to her background as a behavioral geneticist. Her passion for the topic led to the creation of the Institute and its endowment, which helps support programs that encourage robust, lifelong habits around mental, physical and emotional health.
Dr. Walker found an enthusiastic partner for this work in Associate Head of School Priscilla Scobie. During her more than 33-year career at Kent Denver, Ms. Scobie has transformed the school’s approach to wellness and has been both a trusted advisor and loving presence in the lives of students, faculty and parents. Now, as a way to honor Ms. Scobie’s extraordinary impact on our community, the Institute will be officially renamed The Scobie Institute for Wellness.
“One of Priscilla’s greatest assets is her innate desire to connect with students, to show them genuine love, to let them know they are seen, heard and valued for who they are as individuals,” explains Dr. Walker. “This instinctive quality in Priscilla, and programs she has put into place to support long-term health and well-being, have powerfully shaped the emotional culture for students at Kent Denver. The science is clear that the early years matter most for forming foundational habits and mindsets that persist across life. Safety, belonging and love are non-negotiable in supporting each young person on their unique journey toward reaching their full human potential.”
Dr. Walker goes on to say: “Priscilla was decades ahead of the research. In leading with kindness, genuine caring, integrity and humility, she built an extraordinary Wellness Team, collectively transforming lives in a manner that will have impact across generations. I am deeply grateful for her presence at Kent Denver, and I look forward to continuing our rich collaboration to help all our children flourish.”
As an educator who has long served as an emotional touchstone for students, Ms. Scobie has seen the importance of making wellness a priority in school life. She notes a crucial turning point for Kent Denver around 12 years ago when the school began more strategically using data to inform wellness programs. “We have always valued wellness and character, but we talked about those things in somewhat abstract ways,” Ms. Scobie explains. “Head of School Rand Harrington really pushed us to find data from our students’ experiences to inform our wellness work.”
Using feedback from student surveys like Challenge Success and the evolving scientific understanding of youth mental health, Ms. Scobie has helped Kent Denver build an innovative and highly effective wellness program. The work is supported by a greatly expanded Wellness Team, which now includes three school counselors, two learning specialists, six deans, a school nurse and, new this year, a Director of Wellness.
The results of her work, confirmed by data from student surveys, show that today’s Kent Denver students feel a greater sense of belonging, have less stress about school, are sleeping more and have a greater sense of wellbeing compared to both national norms and to survey results from our students prior to the expansion of wellness programming.
“At Kent Denver, we have been really intentional about what we have done with wellness,” Ms. Scobie explains. “We have paid attention to the national story—kids are struggling with mental health, especially in the age of social media—and we have paid attention to what our own students are telling us. We can see that these evidence-based efforts are having a positive impact on student wellbeing, and we are excited about all the future holds!”