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School environments and policies that support staff wellness create a healthy climate that benefits the entire school community. One of the most important environmental changes associated with staff wellness programs is how teachers’ and administrators’ behaviors and appearance model healthy choices for students. When students see teachers drinking water and walking at lunch time, it conveys a clear message to children about the importance of health.
According to Sarah Butzine, Program Supervisor for Coordinated School Health, “Staff wellness initiatives support and create a healthy school climate and culture; involving everyone and serving as an important connection point for students, staff, and community partners.” The Coordinated School Health Program in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is a federally funded partnership between OSPI and Washington Department of Health. Coordinated School Health promotes programs and policies to meet the needs of the whole school community. Health promotion for staff is one of eight major components of Coordinated School Health according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
Many districts around the state promote staff wellness. In the Wenatchee school district, Joanne Johanson and a few colleagues initiated the staff wellness program by sending surveys to all district staff to assess interest in wellness education and activities. The team went on to organize hikes and exercise classes, along with classes ranging from healthy cooking to personal fitness planning. One big success was a weight loss challenge where two competing teams tracked their weight loss by stepping as a group onto the big scales at the Stemilt Fruit Growers. Johanson says, “The reason I love coordinating wellness competitions is because it brings laughter and camaraderie into the workplace, as well as helping staff to become more conscience of their personal wellness.” When the district discovered they were saving money on health insurance claims, they dedicated funding for 25% of a position to continue with the planning and communications.
At Tonasket School District, almost half of the staff joined the 100 Mile Club in 2011 and tapped into an existing national wellness program. Staff pledged to run, walk or swim 100 miles during the school year. According to School Nurse Barb Warfield, who is preparing to repeat the program this fall: “This is not a competition between participants, but it is setting a personal goal and achieving the success.”
Other districts have sought funding or partnered with their local health departments to obtain grants for exercise equipment and instructors. Some districts charge a small fee to pay for a yoga or dance instructor; other districts make the gym available after school at no charge. The Coordinated School Health team stands ready to help districts develop staff wellness plans and policy statements.
The beneficial impacts of these initiatives have led to 78% of districts in Washington adopting a school wellness policy.
Featured: March 2012
School faculty and staff