The importance of keeping a healthy school in the true sense of the world has never been so universally understood as it is in this current era. Perhaps we can consider it a silver lining of recent challenges—this increased awareness and acknowledgment of SEL’s value and considering the whole child when creating a positive school environment.
The corporate world has long understood the benefits of investing into employee well-being by offering programs for stress reduction, nutrition, and physical activity and to help steer away from problem habits that wear on a worker’s happiness and productivity.
As states and schools follow suit, busy educators already at their limit for time and energy in the classroom face a struggle to add more tasks to their plate, so districts are hiring wellness coordinators to lend a hand in implementing initiatives into the daily lives of their students.
What is a Wellness Coordinator?
A wellness coordinator provides leadership in the school setting, acting as a liaison between educators and the various programs and policies affecting students’ (and in some cases, employee) well-being. They offer guidance to promote a positive and healthy environment on campus and share knowledge of the latest programs, policies, and initiatives offered to help learners. They devise plans on how to organically incorporate these positive models and offerings into the classroom, rather than to have programs competing for precious instruction hours.
Wellness coordinators can step in and find solutions for individual students, but rather than a traditional behavioral or mental health-specific helper such as a social worker or school therapist, their role is more focused on overall well-being of the school population.
“In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing educational atmosphere, leaders and districts need to create a positive environment,” says Dr. Matthew X. Joseph, Director of Supervision for Brockton Public Schools. “Although this is challenging for every leader, navigating these uncharted waters with care is critical. The drastic shifts we’re all facing due to the increased demands are reminders of just how vital positive wellness and school culture is.”
What Does a Wellness Coordinator Do?
A wellness coordinator can evaluate long-term needs for students and staff within a campus or district and create a plan to reach goals for improvement. They can offer recommendations regarding specific programs to solve issues, or provide guidance on how to follow existing policies in a positive and cohesive way.
Often, part of their task load includes learning about state and federal programs available to increase the health and happiness of students. This could include nutrition, physical education, or mental health topics. In some cases, they might even participate in a grant application process to fund additional initiatives.
Collaboration with district educators and leaders on school health programs that address wellness priorities is key, as well as fostering partnerships with the greater community to reap further resources for students and their families.
What Qualifications Does a Wellness Coordinator Need?
Most wellness coordinators hold a bachelor's degree as well as experience in some health-related area, which ensures evaluations and recommendations are valid and appropriately assigned.
Good communication skills are a must as wellness coordinators have to connect with students, educators, and administration. Organization skills for this holistic health hub are also crucial as day-to-day communications and planning sessions could extend to a variety of parties.
As a champion for well-being, creativity and enthusiasm to encourage participation and get both teacher-and-student buy-in to create a healthier and happier school environment is an obvious plus.
“Relational trust is built on people and our connections,” says Joseph. “Emotions such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and positivity are critical to building a strong educational community. When coupled with schools’ current needs to face change and new possibilities, having a healthy community is even more paramount. During my research at Boston College and when I wrote ‘Power of Connections’, I looked at building a positive community and its impact on school culture. I learned that a positive school environment makes a difference in productivity, satisfaction, and happiness at work. A culture of educator wellness and positivity also helps to build trust among colleagues, and it becomes safer to open up to change.”
Using a Grants to Hire a Wellness Coordinator
Fresno USD was awarded a $150,000 Wellness Coordinator grant from the Kaiser Permanente Foundation to aid student wellbeing. The district hired Anita Ruiz, who will coordinate initiatives focused on improving food security and nutrition, increasing physical activity, providing increased social-emotional supports, and connecting students and families with outside community resources.
“We are proud to once again be chosen as a grant recipient by the Kaiser Permanente Foundation and are excited to be working with them on this innovative initiative for the betterment of our students, families, and communities,” says Fresno USD superintendent Bob Nelson.
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