THE ISSUE: Encouraging health and wellness

LOCAL IMPACT: The Nebraska City Public School district employees are leading by example with a wellness program that just recently netted recognition from the governor's office.

Teachers lead just as much as they educate and the Nebraska City Public School system is taking that charge very seriously in the area of wellness.
Roughly two years ago, NCPS enacted a program to encourage wellness and healthy life choices among all of its district employees.
That effort resulted in a state honor and a letter from the governor of Nebraska.
Nebraska City Public Schools received the Governor’s Wellness Award at the Sower level.
This distinction means that NCPS has seen great participation in their wellness program for a period of two years and that the school district has also made an effort to reach out and involve the community in spreading their message of healthy living.
This honor hasn’t come without hard work and initiative.
All the work began when Dr. Jeffrey E. Edwards, superintendent of schools, approached Leslie Gross, physical education teacher at Northside, to ask her if she would spearhead the district’s wellness efforts.
Dr. Edwards had heard about the EHA or Educators Health Alliance Wellness Program, at a state assembly. In previous years, Dr. Edwards said that NCPS had engaged in wellness programs at the different school buildings. This effort was to be a system-wide program.
And it needed a leader.
So Edwards asked Gross, and, despite the fact that this was to be an unpaid role with the district, Gross took the opportunity and ran with it.
Gross said she thought the program was important because wellness is important to all. It was also her way to show appreciation for the privilege of working in the community.
“I kind of feel like this is a way I can give back to the school district,” Gross said. “I have loved working for Nebraska City. I can’t imagine going anywhere else and working. This is the district that I love.”
Initially, NCPS got its employees involved in EHA challenges which encourage participants, strictly on a volunteer basis, to attempt to establish a healthy habit.
One of those was a health lunch challenge which encouraged participants to make nutritious choices for their noon-time meal.
That challenge had an incentive. Gross said those employees who took the challenge and logged their progress online with the EHA program were eligible to receive a $25 gift card. A number of employees met the challenge and did receive a gift card.
Another voluntary activity for employees was to fill out a health assessment survey. Participants could take the completed survey to their primary doctor who would use it to help guide a discussion and find areas of health that needed to be addressed.
Just for filling out the survey, the employee received $25.
Around the year mark, Gross found out about two goals of the program that Nebraska City could chase. One was the Governor’s Award for Wellness and the other was the Elevate program.
The Governor’s Award for Wellness honors two groups of high achievers in wellness, those who have began and sustained efforts for two or more years, the Sowers level, and those who have built upon their achievements after receiving the Sowers level award, an achievement that nets the Growers level.
The clincher for Nebraska City getting its Sowers award, Gross said, was that the district fulfilled a requirement to create an aspect of the wellness program that reached out into the community.
Nebraska City’s outreach element was to create awareness for kids who are suffering with Type I diabetes.
Gross said she was aware of students in the district who have Type 1 diabetes and she wanted the wellness outreach program to shed light on their struggles and to indicate solidarity with those kids and with their families.
“I really think that those kids and those parents need to know that we support them,” said Gross.
To achieve its outreach goal with Type 1 diabetes, Gross said the decision was made to have a JDRF Walk. The JDRF Walk raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Gross said she looked into JDRF and found that it was an organization where donations went mostly to research the disease rather than to administrative costs, thus making it an ideal partner for the wellness outreach at Nebraska City.
In addition to working toward a Governor’s Award for Wellness, Nebraska City found that it could earn cash for its wellness program through the Elevate program, up to $5,000.
Although the EHA program is one that is self sufficient and operates outside of the NCPS district budget, the extra money gained through the Elevate program could be used in creative ways to encourage wellness. Gross explained that the money could be used to bring in speakers supporting healthy messages and that participants in the NCPS program could be encouraged with programs, for instance one that would provide a gift card which an employee could use to purchase a health tracker, such as a Fitbit.
In order to get the cash through the Elevate program, the NCPS wellness program would need to do three things.
1. Participants would need to fill out a health assessment survey.
2. Participants would need to take the survey to their doctor and get it signed, thus proving that they were making a plan to further their individual wellness goals.
3. Participants would have to complete three challenges in the program, like the one for healthy lunches.
If 50 percent of the employees in the district complete all three stipulations of the Elevate program, Nebraska City will receive $5,000. Even if the district does not get the $5,000, Gross said the district will receive $15 for every employee who achieves the challenge.
And the employees receive money as well. Each employee who completes all three stipulations will receive $150.
As Gross works to continue the program, a structure has been placed so that the Nebraska City district can grow its wellness into the future.
Each building in the district (Northside, Hayward, the middle school, the high school, the main office and maintenance) has representatives who promote the wellness program.
Kelly Schmidt, a social studies teacher at the middle school, serves as a building representative for the wellness program.
Schmidt said she was interested in taking on her representative duties because the topic of wellness is one that she is passionate about. She places importance on fitness and wellness in her own life and wanted to advocate for that effort.
She also wanted to model good behaviors for students in the district.
“It has to start with us and trickle down to them,” Schmidt explained.
Looking forward, Gross said she would like to see the NCPS wellness program invite the kids of the schools to participate. The kids would not be eligible for the monetary incentives but would benefit from accomplishing wellness goals and for receiving praise for following through.
When wellness works, employees benefit, in this case teachers, students and support staff. But it goes beyond that.
“Everybody does better when they feel better,” said Dr. Edwards.
And good feelings could end up spreading well beyond employees and children in the district.
Gross said the employees of the district hope to model good behavior, not only for kids and fellow employees, but for the larger community.
“It starts with us. We plant the seed,” Gross said.