As Trinidad School District No. 1 pushes forward with remote learning, health and wellness continue to be a high priority for the district. Prior to the pandemic, TSD1 had already begun the work of planning the use of some of the $149,966 in funds they received from a Make it Happen Grant in 2018, which is also referred to as the Health and Wellness grant. Now, much of what had been planned previously is coming to fruition at a time when physical and mental health are being tested for everyone.
Students and staff, taken out of the social norms of what school looked like before the pandemic hit in March, have for the most part been separated since then. While students are often home, secluded from friends, teachers are also struggling with isolation from the students they teach as well as the fellow staff they work with.
This is not a difficulty specific to Trinidad. Schools, along with numerous other workplaces, have had to very quickly move to a distanced format; according to some, largely at the expense of personal health. As Trinidad High School (THS) English teacher and Wellness Leader, Donna Grant stressed, “Bears go into hibernation all winter, but we were meant to be social creatures and rely on one another to stay healthy.”
To make the best use of the funds from the grant, Wellness Leaders at each school were chosen along with wellness teams to determine activities and items to fund with the ultimate goal of increasing the physical, mental, and emotional health of all students and staff.
The wellness team is made up of teachers, students, parents, and other local partners such as Keri Powers with the Las Animas and Huerfano County Health Department who has been pivotal in helping to get the groundwork in place to turn the THS tennis courts into an educational garden and outdoor classroom space.
“Exciting things in wellness are happening at Trinidad School District,” said Wellness Coordinator for TSD1 Dr. Ivory Raye. “At the high school we’ve put in a staff wellness room and work has started on putting in a garden to utilize next year once in-person education can resume.”
With state officials continuing to push “Safer-at-Home and in the Great Outdoors,” many feel that an affinity for holding group activities outdoors as opposed to crowding small, indoor spaces is the new norm. Grant, who shared her excitement for the garden project, said the new space would be somewhere all high school teachers could utilize for bringing their class outside.
“I see this as being an outdoor classroom as well as a place to come to reconnect with nature and help with emotional wellbeing as well,” said Grant. “We’ll have raised beds and an area in the middle to sit with a class. There’s also plans for a greenhouse.”
But this is all down the line once students are back to in-person learning. Until then, Grant said teachers have been doing all they can to be of support for their students virtually, bringing a student in here and there when needed and in accordance with current health department rules.
“We are allowed to bring in a very small number of students who may need that one on one help,” said Grant. “Having to transition online has been difficult for everyone and more than anything we just try to be there for our kids and the other teachers. It’s important for them to know they’re not alone, even if it kind of feels like we are right now.”
Currently, the district has two cooking classes planned for students and their families to teach them how to cook healthfully without breaking the budget. In the past, these have happened in person and were always at full capacity. Now that everything has shifted online, Raye hopes this will make the class even more accessible to families.
“Our cooking classes show you that you can eat healthy, delicious food on a budget,” said Raye. “It’s different from being in person but I think having it virtually will really encourage a lot more people to take part. People are really starting to embrace that eating well is super important for personal wellbeing and how you feel. It’s easy to do and has so many benefits.”
Another part of the Health and Wellness grant for the district, Raye explained was for the staff themselves and after some discussion with other staff, that lead to the creation of the THS Wellness Room.
In the room, there’s a massage chair, a Keurig with herbal teas and coffee, a treadmill, exercise bands, several yoga mats, and positive messages on the walls among other things. Grant said since the creation of the wellness room, more equipment has continued to show up.
“A lot of this people have brought in just to make it better,” said Grant. “A portion of the grant is supposed to be for the staff, so we talked to them and tried to figure out what they wanted. This is what worked for them. The treadmill is the thing they wanted.”
With having a space that teachers can go to release of some of the day’s stress, Grant and Raye said they believe this will make for a more resilient staff and may even improve teacher, and transversely, student performance.
“I know for myself, there are days that if I can just go walk for 10 minutes, it’s going to get some of that stress out,” said Grant, “and I’m going to come back to my next class better prepared to work and deal with whatever I’m dealing with that day. If your staff is not healthy and happy, your kids are not going to be healthy and happy. It’s all synergetic.”
In addition to the health and wellness the room has already begun to bring to staff, Grant said the overall message is also important for wellness in the workplace.
“I’m not sure that the staff gets told often enough that they’re appreciated,” said Grant. “This is the Wellness Team’s way of saying we appreciate you and want you to have some nice perks.”
The high school isn’t alone in making that appreciation known. Over at Fishers Peak Elementary, FPE Wellness Leader Teresa Ochoa and Wellness Team member Geneva Villegas put together self-care packages for staff.
“We all know it’s a stressful time and that self-care and support for our teachers, admins, staff is so important,” said Raye.
In the self-care packages for FPE teachers was a yoga mat, resistance bands, essential oils, Yogi tea, gratitude journals, inspirational quotes and a weekly yoga pose. Additionally, Geneva and Teresa promote a weekly wellness challenge and the victors each week get to keep a massage mat in their classroom for that week. Two of those massage mats were purchased, along with the other items using the grant.
Across the district, virtual yoga classes and other wellness classes are available to staff to utilize whenever desired and already Grant said she’s seen staff utilizing some of the videos and heard positive feedback regarding several of the classes available to them.