BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Staff members at Maumee City Schools had the chance to cuddle with dogs during their professional development day on Tuesday, February 21, as part of the district’s wellness committee’s Puppy Love theme for the month of February.
Each month, the committee prepares a wellness-related activity based on a certain theme. For January, the theme was “Stay Hydrated,” and everyone was presented with a new water bottle. December had an optional wellness-centered gift exchange and November focused on being thankful. October’s building-wide coloring pages are still hanging up for staff to use.
“We try to get the staff to take a little time during the day to do some wellness because we know how hard it is being an educator and being in the education field,” said Kelsey Kaczala a wellness committee member and elementary music teacher.
Each theme that Kaczala has picked for every month is meant to appeal to as many MCS staff members as possible and allow them the opportunity to take a few minutes during the school day to focus on their own wellness.
“I’m just trying to make the best working environment for everybody. That was my goal this year, whether it just be a positive smile to people that need it or giving professional development – or Puppy Love,” Kaczala said.
When she approached the committee with the idea to shift more toward mental and emotional health as well as physical wellness and plan monthly themes, the members loved the idea, said Pam Holderness, a committee member and secretary to the assistant superintendent.
“I believe that if you’re not well mentally and emotionally, it’s very hard to be well physically. It’s all connected,” Holderness said.
While educators know a student will find it difficult to perform when their needs aren’t being met, it’s just as hard for educators to work, too, said Assistant Super-intendent Matt Dick.
It was necessary then for the district to make sure every staff member is working in an environment where their needs are prioritized and met, so they can provide their best work for the students, staff and community.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive praise, and people are just thankful we’re putting this at the forefront,” Kaczala said.
The committee was also inspired by MCS Super-intendent Steve Lee, who they said has exemplified focusing on people as whole beings.
“I’ve been with him for 12 years. That’s always been his thing. You’re a person first,” Holderness said.
Seeing people as people, not as solely their role in the school or what purpose they serve, was the message Lee stated at the beginning of the year that has stuck with Kaczala, who said it’s also helped the wellness committee become more inclusive of everyone’s varying needs.
To address the physical needs of staff, the district has held outdoor, recreational activities at Side Cut Metropark and a Wellness Day at the Bowling Green State University Student Recreation Center. There are also plans to hold a steps challenge.
To meet mental and emotional health needs, the wellness committee sends out affirmations and uplifting music to listen to during the day on the Monday Motivation slides that the staff receives. The committee is also planning to encourage staff members to “stop and smell the roses” in April by focusing on aromatherapy.
“In May, we are looking to have a community project. We’re going to invite staff, whoever can attend, to plant flowers at Union School or the senior center. We’re trying to do a little more outreach, too,” Kaczala said.
By extending wellness outside of the classroom, the committee hopes to encourage a well-rounded focus on wellness for staff members in every facet of their lives.
It’s also important to show the community that the district wants a staff that is feeling its best, Hold-erness said.
“It’s important the community knows that we are trying to address everything that makes us more successful in our jobs,” Dick said.
The wellness committee receives funding from Paramount Health Care as part of an agreement with the health insurance company to support the committee’s activities. Michelle Cleland of Savage & Associates acts as a wellness coordinator and helps the district with the funds and its request for more money each year.
Additional expenses are supplemented by non-instructional, non-taxpayer funds from the district to ensure the staff has proper resources for the wellness activities.
For Kaczala, knowing that there is support from so many to focus on wellness, particularly mental and emotional well-being, is important. It takes away the stigma that once surrounded mental health and encourages people to talk about what they need to be their best.
Each small step – from motivational slides and puppy snuggles to encouraging hydration – can make a big impact on every aspect of someone’s health, and that’s all the committee is trying to do, its members say.
“Sometimes it’s just very simple things that you do that can make such a difference,” Holderness said.