District 518's program ends with a Wellness Walk Wednesday
WORTHINGTON -- Students notice when teachers model positive behavior, and that's why District 518 embarked on a new wellness program this year -- which will end with a Wellness Walk Wednesday.
"We're promoting staff wellness in hopes that it will reflect on students," said Wendy Donkersloot, a registered nurse and District 518's wellness coordinator. "It decreases absences in the staff and illnesses... and keeps them in the classroom so there's more consistency for the students."
The Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative, which coordinates District 518's health insurance, offered $1,250 in start-up funds for the health cost management program. In order to use the money, the school had to designate a wellness coordinator, get approval for the program from administration and start a wellness committee.
Additional funds for wellness initiatives came from the wellness screening process, which allows District 518 staff reduced-cost blood screening. For every participating staff member, the school received $20 for wellness programming.
The ultimate goal of the program is for school staff members to become healthier, with better self-esteem, with optimal performance at work and home -- which would also result in less utilization of health insurance, saving the district money. One district found that for every $1 spent on wellness initiatives, it saved $3.50.
Research has shown that when teachers model healthy habits, student absences decrease alongside teacher absences, keeping teachers in the classroom more. Consistency in teaching is an important part of student success, Donkersloot said.
She started looking into the program in the fall and it officially began in December, though District 518 has been doing wellness activities since school started.
Ryan Seykora from the Worthington Area YMCA visited the school and provided information about the benefits of exercise and weight-lifting. Greta Farley, a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee, taught District 518 staff about how to eat healthier even when dining out.
"It's all to benefit the kids, because if you educate the staff (and) get them to snack on celery and carrots at their desks, kids see that," Donkersloot said. "If they drink a bottle of water instead of pop, kids see that. We have to be good role models for our kids at home and in school."
At Prairie Elementary, staff members can participate in Wellness Wednesdays, when they can buy sub sandwiches or catered healthy dinners from outside the school, or purchase a healthy lunch option from the cafeteria.
Donkersloot sends out weekly wellness newsletters, which include healthy recipes and helpful tips. The school participated in the Farm to School program, which brings fresh, locally-grown food to schools, and also hosted a district-wide eight-week weight loss challenge earlier in the year.
Wednesday's Wellness Walk will be in place of the traditional end-of-the-year potluck. Teachers from all the district schools will walk 1.8 miles to Chautauqua Park and walk another 1.8 miles back to their buildings.
"There's just so much going on at the end of the year, and they need to remember to take care of themselves," Donkersloot said. "Healthy kids are better learners. It only helps to have healthy staff."
District 518's wellness efforts will continue next year, and Donkersloot intends to try another wellness walk in the fall as a back-to-school effort.