Kindness campaigns and therapy dogs: How one district does wellness
Shasta Union HSD prioritizes staff and student health
March 6, 2023
The following was written by Leopoldo Perez, associate superintendent of Instructional Services with Shasta Union High School District.
Having an open mind to creative and intentional initiatives that support staff and student wellness has many benefits. It can help address the challenges leading to a growing number of educators leaving or considering leaving the profession. It also shows the broader community that we are trying to provide every option at school to support our teachers and staff. Mindful approaches to improving the quality of life for staff while they are at work can have significant benefits to addressing retention, burnout and, by extension, recruitment.
As we move into the post-COVID pandemic period, it has become evident that educators and students at all levels need some support. The challenges of teaching during a pandemic have clearly taken their toll on everyone. There has been a strong and justified emphasis on student well-being; however, there is evidence that we also need to support the other half of the educational system: our teachers, administrators and support staff.
As an administrator, you see the big picture of your school, including the student body, family dynamics and staff. As early as 2016, Shasta High School saw the need to start developing a place where students could go to get a variety of supports to help them with school and their personal and home lives. This quickly morphed to include the staff in our school community.
We began developing the idea of a wellness center at Shasta High School with the long-term goal of establishing a wellness center at all three of our comprehensive high schools and our continuation high school to offer students free access to:
  • Community resources (24-hour mental health hotline, counseling, brochures, etc.).
  • Mentorship programs through local providers and volunteer organizations (offered during the school day).
  • A safe place for students and staff.
  • Physical health modalities (diet, exercise and health analysis).
  • Wellness testing (cholesterol/pre-diabetes).
  • Mental health (outreach and support through contracted service providers and other community resources).
The idea came to fruition in 2018 when a K-12 Strong Workforce Grant was utilized to get the initial funding needed to make this happen. The Wellness Center at SHS was strategically placed, away from the administrative office, and is set up in another building for students to access.
As the Wellness Center was gearing up to open, the pandemic hit, so we went through the COVID years and slowly reopened according to the rules. As staff and students returned to school life, it was evident that we also needed to address teacher burnout and support the entire school staff as a whole.
Before the pandemic started, we had primarily focused on the staff’s physical well-being, hosting events for staff cholesterol screening and pre-diabetes testing. Events like this were done with the help of our community partners and facilitated through our CTE medical classes. This activity provided a valuable service to our staff.
Partnerships with organizations like Central Valley Trust have also allowed us to host numerous events for our staff, including wellness challenges, healthy living seminars and information about accessing community resources. We have continually expanded some events to include our entire district, such as flu shot clinics.
On the mental health side, our students and staff at Shasta High School have participated in an appreciation event, “What Helps Me Campaign,” where students and staff wrote words of recognition and appreciation for constructive mental health outlets. The therapeutic value of a schoolwide event like this was validating in many ways. Reading the comments created a sense of community, as many were able to share thoughts, feelings, challenges and successes with others in the school community. While the commenters were anonymous, the names of those who were appreciated were not, thereby showing gratitude for the kind acts of others. These “kindness” campaigns have helped tackle issues such as loneliness, depression and sadness by spreading joy, inspiration and unity.
One of the most popular events happens during our finals week in the fall and spring when the therapy dogs come to the Shasta High Wellness Center. The end of the semester can be stressful for everyone, but the presence of the therapy dogs is a much-appreciated and welcomed event by students and staff.
Attention to mental and physical health is now at the forefront for many districts. A great place to start is with Employee Assistance Services for Education (EASE) and Specialized Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for districts looking to begin building their own version of staff wellness and support systems.
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