Worksite Health Promotion: Keene Middle School Demonstrates Best Practices

By Cindy Dickinson

This year’s American College of Sports Medicine Summit, held March 24–27 in Atlanta, placed major emphasis on worksite health promotion and how to move employees to a higher level of wellness. Keynote speakers and workshop presenters highlighted topics ranging from how to develop wellness programs on a limited budget to creating a culture of health and developing programming using the FIT (Fact-based, Integrated across the organization and Targeted to need) design.

The FIT Model

Keene Middle School’s (KMS) worksite wellness program exemplifies the FIT design, along with planning and execution on a shoestring budget, plus other best-practice standards put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Wellness Council of America. As this year’s recipient of a $4,000 WELLDollars grant from New Hampshire Local Government Center’s (LGC) HealthTrust, KMS is leading the way in worksite health promotion among New Hampshire schools.

The school’s Wellness Coordinator, Jennifer Audet, RN, BSN, has been working with teachers, administrators and support staff for many years on what started as a small weight-loss incentive. It has now evolved into a multi-faceted, worksite wellness model that involves more than 50 teachers, administrators and support staff plus the local community. As a result, the current “culture of wellness" at KMS has had a significant impact on staff members’ health, productivity, absenteeism, morale, stress levels and camaraderie.

Data-Gathering Start

In worksite health promotion, the current push is on providing programs that are fact-based and results-oriented. A model for best practices, the KMS wellness program began with data gathering. Audet surveyed the entire KMS faculty to determine their greatest areas of need and interest as part of the LGC HealthTrust WELLDollars application process. As is typical for many worksites, exercise, nutrition and stress-reduction were the survey’s top areas of concern. This year’s wellness incentives at KMS address all three, plus provide related training and information for faculty, administration and staff.

At the beginning of this year’s program, 34 KMS participants completed Full Fitness Assessments conducted by their LGC Health Management Representative. These assessments capture baseline data, including resting blood pressure and heart rates, Body Mass Index and body composition (fat-to-muscle ratio) measurements, height and weight plus flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, upper-body strength and core strength evaluations.

At the conclusion of this year’s wellness program, each participant will repeat the assessment. Resulting data will indicate degrees of improvement and highlight areas that still need work; it will also be used in designing programs for the future.

Audet also collects and maintains data relating to program participant numbers and the success of program offerings in general. So far, her gathered data—as well as self-reporting feedback from participants—show that the school’s wellness programs are making a positive difference.

Participation Is Key

The KMS wellness program has been successfully integrated across the school community. Audet notes that this year, for the first time, it is not just teachers who are participating. Support staff and administration members are also enthusiastic about being involved in school well-ness activities.

One of the most important features of any successful worksite program is gaining support and participation from administration and management representatives. Audet credits SAU 29’s Business Administrator Paul Cooper, Human Resources Director Laura French and KMS Principal Dorothy Frazier with providing tremendous support for the school’s wellness program.

Audet describes her role as Health Coordinator for KMS as one of “reaching out." This fall, she took that approach to a new level by joining KMS forces with Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, Keene State College, Home Healthcare and Community Services and Carlisle Flooring, a Keene employer, to jointly create a community-based, weight-loss incentive program. Given current budget cuts and a stressful work climate in both schools and the private sector, more and more communities will need to join forces to create efficient and effective wellness programming such as this partnership which KMS has successfully taken part in.Response to the recently held Faculty/Staff Health Day, another KMS wellness initiative, has been overwhelmingly positive, notes Audet. “One teacher said it was the first workshop day that didn’t have him leaving with a headache," Audet recalls. Another participant reported afterward that she went home with enough energy to do housework—“on a Friday afternoon! My husband didn’t know what was going on!"

Shoestring Budget Programs

In her workshop titled What Would You Do with $5000, at the American College of Sports Medicine Summit in Atlanta earlier this year, Heather Chambliss, PhD, FACSM, spoke about real change on a real budget. For example, all applicants for LGC HealthTrust’s WELLDollars grant monies must create a related budget and, if awarded a grant, provide fund accountability.

Chambliss offers several guidelines for effective wellness programming on a small budget, including answering these two key questions:

1. How much will it cost?
2. What’s in it for me?

She also recommends getting the word out about wellness programming, which KMS does routinely through the local press. Finally, Chambliss recommends “piggybacking on other events or groups" and fully exploring local resources. Faculty/Staff Health Day, as for example, made use of a district workshop day to provide trainings, exercise classes, information on wellness resources and a healthy lunch. Audet also tapped into available local resources from Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, community-based fitness instructors, Hannaford Supermarket and the LGC’s Risk and Health Management Department to provide a full day of wellness activities.

Meanwhile, money from the LGC WELLDollars grant that KMS earned earlier this year will support its continuing programs like weight-loss and walking incentives with pedometers for participants, a wellness lending library, staff wellness and exercise classes and connecting to area-based wellness programs.

Kudos to the entire KMS community for setting ambitious wellness goals—and achieving them. Its best practices in developing and implementing effective wellness program are ones that other schools and municipalities can consider emulating.

Cindy Dickinson is a Health Management Representative of New Hampshire Local Government Center and an ACE Certified Personal Trainer.