Flint, MI— Teachers and staff at Freeman Elementary School now have a special room just for themselves.
Equipped with sparkling juice, massage chairs, relaxing music, and an essential oil diffuser, it’s a place where they can unwind and practice mindfulness.
Staff and students alike have endured an unprecedented amount of stress due to the pandemic, Jordan Munerlyn, community director at Freeman, said.
“Mindfulness is something that (we’re) behind, that we believe in, and that we instill in kids,” Munerlyn said. “But I was like, ‘What about the teaching staff? What are we doing for them?’”
Freeman unveiled the room March 1 with a nacho buffet and other snacks. The room also includes heated towels, adult coloring books—and is completely off-limits to students.
“Everyone is on high alert and the stress a little high,” Munerlyn said.
Freeman is among several schools in Michigan to create a wellness room for staff, Deborah Grischke, program director for Building Healthy Communities Step Up for School Wellness, said.
The grant program is a collaboration between several organizations including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Education with the goal of helping districts promote mental and emotional wellness.
“We’re really focused on addressing health inequities and addressing the growing gaps in physical, social, and emotional needs of students due to the high rates of unmedicated student mental health challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic, and also the ongoing obesity epidemic,” Grischke said.
Since its inception in 2015, approximately 516 schools have participated in the program. Each can “customize” how to use their grant by choosing among 18 focus areas. In the 2020-2021 school year, 49% of the 290 grantees applied for and were awarded the Staff Well-Being resource.
“I think the pandemic has really highlighted the equal importance of self-care for school staff and how it’s positively impacting stress reduction, decrease risks of illness, improved health and well-being. … Wellness rooms are just one strategy that schools have chosen as part of our program,” Grischke said.
Wellness rooms also improve staff morale because it makes them feel like they matter, Grischke said.
Freeman teachers Kathy Savoie and Shelbi Redmond agree.
“We appreciate getting a little pampering and we appreciate the downtime and, in the middle of the day, just being able to relax and take a moment to ourselves,” Savoie said.
Prior to the wellness room, Redmond said she would eat lunch in her classroom.
“Now we have somewhere to go, Redmond said. “I plan to use it every day.”
Grischke said that focusing on staff and teacher wellness helps schools become more student-centric.
“If we’re not well, then we’re not going to be able to be most effective in the classroom for our students,” Grischke said.