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Care of the Workforce: School Employee Wellness

Laura E. Saponara serves as a Senior Communications Consultant for Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit.

“Among the nation’s workforce, more than 4% of all working citizens in the United States are employed by school systems as teachers, administrators, support staff, nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, bus drivers, food service workers and maintenance staff.  They form one of the most valuable workforces in the United States, because they nurture and substantially shape each and every generation of children.” 

–  Lloyd J. Kolbe, Ph.D. and Gerald N. Tirozzi, Ph.D., School Employee Wellness: A Guide for Protecting the Assets of Our Nation’s Schools 

School employees who lack good health cannot be healthy role models for their students.  Yet many school systems have been slower than the for-profit arena to establish high-quality health promotion programs that provide all workers with the health education, resources and support they need to maximize their physical and mental wellbeing.

These facts are the motivating force behind a new step a step-by-step guide to implementing school employee wellness programs.  School Employee Wellness: A Guide for Protecting the Assets of Our Nation’s Schools, published earlier this year by Directors of Health Promotion and Education, builds on the organization’s experience and draws upon the expertise of an extensive list of public health and public education leaders who participated in the making of the guide.


A set of four core principles for establishing school employee wellness is introduced:

  • Integrate the school employee wellness program into the coordinated school health program.
  • Tailor the program to the health needs of participants, for example by using an individual health risk assessment tool.  The data collected becomes the basis for a program that focuses on the actual health risks faced by employees.
  • Start small so that you can build the foundation for a more ambitious, results-oriented program down the road.
  • Gather support from a cross section of the school community, including obvious allies (health and mental health professionals within the school, nutrition services staff, certified personal trainers, etc.) and less obvious allies, such as administrators who have access to the superintendent or communicate freely with the school board or commissioners.

Much of the guide is dedicated to nine steps for establishing a school employee wellness program that can improve morale, lower injuries and health care costs, increase retention and productivity, among many other benefits.  Each of the steps is explained briefly, in one or two helpful pages.

At the back of the guide are useful tools, including a survey for understanding which health and wellness activities are of greatest interest to employees, and one that asks employees to evaluate the current school wellness program, as well as a sample vision statement and a sample letter of invitation to join in organizing a school wellness committee.

The website of the Directors of Health Promotion and Education also offers a slide presentation, facts sheets, additional surveys and sample employee wellness plans from a number of school districts throughout the country.

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