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South Valley Riverton Journal

Teachers get a much needed wellness day

Feb 22, 2022 08:41PM ● By Jet Burnham

Jordan District employees learn yoga and relaxation. (Photo courtesy of Jordan District.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Teachers were at a breaking point when the omicron surge hit in January.

“It's the accumulated stress of the last two years that has made things difficult for every employee,” Jordan School District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey said. “Plus, because we're understaffed and it's difficult finding substitutes, many times employees have to do not only their own work but the work of others. It's a big strain to have to continue to do that day in and day out.”

To give district employees a much needed break, the Flex Friday (online day) scheduled for Feb. 11 was adapted to a health and wellness day.

“It's just a chance for us to stop and focus on student, family and employee health and wellness as we gear up for the remainder of the year,” Godfrey said. “It's been a very difficult year, perhaps the most difficult, and so I think everyone benefits from taking time to take care of themselves and to refocus.”

Employees were invited to use the day to catch up on work (without having to fit in times to meet with students), to utilize mental health resources or to take a day off (without having to find a sub.) Unlike a professional development day, there were no required meetings or trainings.

Butterfield Canyon Elementary assistant principal Angie Hamilton was grateful.

“I thought that was really cool that they're recognizing and appreciating what teachers are going through,” she said. “Everybody is hanging on by a thread, so any recognition or time for themselves is so appreciated.”

The team of third grade teachers at Butterfield Canyon Elementary used the day to lesson-plan together. They were able to enjoy time together, go out to lunch and just enjoy the day, Principal Michelle Peterson said.

After she checked in on her teachers, Peterson attended a wellness class, and then she went swimming, one of her favorite pastimes. As an educator for 30 years, she said it was the first time she’s seen a district provide this kind of resource for its employees.

Many local businesses also offered employees free access to gyms and fitness centers. Local Swig locations offered free drinks.

Jordan District offered employees and students access to 50 on-demand health and wellness classes through the Cook Center for Human Connection. Additionally, district employees taught classes, in-person and remotely, on yoga, and personal and professional stress management.

A team of teachers from Kauri Sue Hamilton School attended “Finding Fulfillment in Life and Work” and came away with some tips to help themselves and their students. After the class, they ate their free lunch at the onsite food truck, and then headed back to the school to catch up on work.

“It definitely was great to just get work done that we need to because we never have the time— time that isn't unpaid—to finish stuff that we need to,” teacher Eden Withers said. “That helps your mental health because then you're not stressed about it.”

Godfrey hoped the day helped employees renew, recharge and refocus.

“I also hope that it's just the beginning of a continued focus on individual health and wellness going forward,” he said.

To further help their employees through this rough time, JSD implemented a substitute teacher incentive bonus, which helped increase availability. When the shortages affected bus drivers, JSD’s director of transportation, administrative staff and mechanics took on bus routes to help drivers, who were covering multiple routes. Board of Education member Darrell Robinson pledged to take every Friday off of work to help with custodial duties at local schools.

“It's really impressive to me, but not surprising, how employees reach out to support each other, to chip in, to work to do whatever they can to support each other personally and professionally,” Godfrey said.