GovWell: Pierre School Staff Get Well

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The Pierre Public School District’s worksite wellness program GovWell applied for and received a WorkWell Mini-Grant through the South Dakota Department of Health. The goal of the grant is to provide South Dakota worksites with funding and resources to send a positive, supportive message and promote healthy lifestyles by preventing, reducing, and managing chronic disease through workplace environment and/or policy change.

There are five schools in the Pierre Public School District including three elementary, one middle school, and one high school. The WorkWell Grant was utilized to improve the wellness program and implement a variety of health challenges, events, exercise classes, educational sessions, and informative resources. All staff in the district were welcome to participate – principals, teachers, custodians, food service staff, teachers aids, etc. Often times in a school district staff from different buildings do not interact. The GovWell program brings staff from various school buildings together and created competition and comradery throughout the district.

The GovWell planning committee included the School Nutrition Director as the lead coordinator, a representative from each school building, and was open to any others who were interested in participating in the planning and promotion. The team only met twice during the school year but was in constant communication through email. The GovWell committee found a variety of challenges with planning, organizing, and implementing the wellness program. Logistical challenges included determining staff needs, scheduling and timing of activities, effective communication for adequate promotion and involvement, creating user-friendly tools and resources, and tracking progress. To help address some of these challenges a survey was conducted to determine impact, satisfaction, and receive feedback and ideas for improvement. A new communication plan was also formed. In the future, each school building representative will be responsible for communication within their building as opposed to one person reaching out to all staff whom they may or may not personally know or see on a daily basis.

A school district can be a high stress environment that leaves little time for staff to focus on their own health and wellness. However, these logistical and everyday challenges combined with multiple staff battling cancer or other chronic diseases, opened the doors for a wealth of worksite wellness opportunities.

The four quarters in the school year were divided into four wellness areas: nutrition and weight management, physical activity, financial and stress/emotional wellness, and cancer and disease prevention. Activities were created to address each of these areas including a steps challenge, biggest loser challenge, yoga classes, general exercise classes, water challenge, nutrition/cancer prevention educational session, diabetes education session, health screenings, flu shot availability, a New Years resolution tool, and informational newsletters. 100 staff members participated in different areas of the wellness program. Many focused on physical activity and nutrition as they know these two things will prevent chronic disease.

The positive results were seen on both a personal and system-wide level. Each school building created a healthier environment whether it was healthier snacks at meetings, bringing in less unhealthy foods to the staff break rooms, or challenging each other to be healthier. The end-of-year survey found 38% of participants were very satisfied, 33% satisfied, 24% neutral, and 4% not satisfied with GovWell that school year when surveyed. This showed an overall positive impact as 71% of staff reported being satisfied or very satisfied! The survey also found almost half of the participants exercised more and drank more water, 40% ate healthier and focused more on self-care, and 1 in 4 lost weight!

“The buzz that the challenges created in our school buildings was infectious. Wellness when done as a team is powerful.” ~Liz Marso, School Nutrition Director

The next steps for the GovWell team are to dig into the data from the survey and improve next years program based on that feedback. It is a priority to ensure the staff knows their input is heard and valued. Offering more online educational sessions versus in-person, continuing the weight loss and steps challenge, adding more challenges as this was an area of high interest and engagement, and to continue having personal trainers come to the school to do group fitness were all determined from survey feedback. The long term goal is to increase participation and continue to build and create a wellness program that is an important part of working for the Pierre School District.

Administrative support and buy-in are key components to a successful and sustainable wellness program for any type of business or worksite. The Pierre School District has solidified that support and the district has agreed to take on funding the program moving forward!