Education

Eureka teachers and staff play together to stay fit

The wellness program results in healthier employees with less absenteeism and fewer workers’ compensation claims, said Amy Gonnella, wellness coordinator for Schools Insurance Group, which finances the Eureka program. Above, the body sculpting class.
The wellness program results in healthier employees with less absenteeism and fewer workers’ compensation claims, said Amy Gonnella, wellness coordinator for Schools Insurance Group, which finances the Eureka program. Above, the body sculpting class. aseng@sacbee.com

Employees at Eureka Union School District pause for 10 minutes most Fridays to play games.

Teachers, administrators and staff – many wearing neon-green shoelaces – break from their work to play Simon Says, hold relay races, play dodge ball or lob balloons across cubicle partitions, among other things.

“It’s not necessarily about the activity, it’s about getting away, taking a break in your day,” said Tom Janis, human resources director. “It’s about health and wellness.”

The mini timeouts, started this school year as part of the district’s growing and evolving wellness program, are called “fitness Fridays.” At the district office in Granite Bay, staff members sign up to take charge of each fitness Friday.

Janis taught rugby drills one Friday morning.

“They all got alarmed when I said we are going to play rugby today and I handed them the ball,” Janis said.

The district, which educates 3,300 students at seven schools in Roseville and Granite Bay, also offers two yoga classes, a cardio class and delivery of fresh fruit to employee break rooms. Last year the district had a cooking class.

This school year staff had the option to track their physical activity, wellness breaks and the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat through a computerized program called Health Trails. Employees earned miles and sometimes prizes for eating well, taking breaks and working out. They had access to health tips and recipes along the way.

“It is kind of a chance for employees to try these new things, and hopefully go deeper and make it part of their lives,” said Amy Gonnella, wellness coordinator for Schools Insurance Group. The result is healthier employees with less absenteeism and fewer workers’ compensation claims, she said.

The Eureka wellness program and others at school districts in Placer and Nevada counties are financed by the Schools Insurance Group, headquartered in Auburn. The joint powers authority allows school districts to pool funds to pay for medical insurance, workers’ compensation and property liability. The JPA allows districts to apply for grants totaling up to $40 per employee enrolled in the medical plan.

“I think it is a great investment, and we are really seeing some changes,” Gonnella said.

Other districts also are finding innovative ways to use the funds. The Placer County Office of Education has an annual wellness fair and an internal wellness challenge revolving around nutrition, fitness and stress reduction, as well as cooking classes, Gonnella said.

Small districts, like Ackerman Charter District in Auburn, are holding mini farmers markets so staff can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eureka Union usually gets about $10,000 annually from the grants and makes full use of the funding, Janis said. A district health and wellness committee decides how to spend the money, using an employee survey as a guide.

Wednesday Elaine Wersky did push-ups on a purple mat during a body sculpting class at Excelsior Elementary School in Roseville. During the hour, the eight women in the class performed squats, lunges and ran in place to hard-thumping music as instructor Jessica Rafanan yelled out commands.

“Teachers and staff definitely enjoy being able to come together and have the opportunity to work out and to catch up together,” Rafanan, a parent and certified group exercise instructor, said before the class.

The teachers, secretaries and librarians sweating in the multipurpose room Wednesday said the classes are a morale booster.

“We’re getting a chance to be with colleagues in another environment in a healthy way,” said Wersky, a music teacher at Olympus Junior High School.

The band and choir teacher has attended district cardio, yoga and cooking classes and participated in the Health Trails program. The program, she said, offers needed support and motivation to employees.

Dawn Gonzalez, a librarian at Maidu Elementary School, said the class helps district staff to stay fit and healthy, and helps them to decompress and de-stress.

“So many people depend on us,” she said.

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.

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