BAR HARBOR — To promote good health among teachers and staff at schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, the school system board voted June 10 to assess the schools a total of $25,000 for the coming year to pay $1,000 stipends to “wellness ambassadors” and to support wellness activities.
Superintendent Marc Gousse proposed the funding for the program that began last fall with staff in each school volunteering to coordinate wellness initiatives.
“Right now, people are doing this on a shoestring or volunteering,” he said. “This would formalize it.
“We believe that by providing this support … we’ll see people getting more active,” he continued. “We’ll see people getting more interested in their health. We know that healthier people are going to be healthier employees.
“And if you look at the research, we are very confident that this will have a cascade effect on our [insurance] rates down the road. That’s not just good for the school district; it’s good for the individual.”
Gousse noted in his funding proposal that the schools provide a number of programs and services – including physical education, sports and nutritious lunches – that promote health and wellness among students.
“Until this past year, there was little systemic focus on staff health and wellness,” he said.
Board member Ingrid Kachmar said of the wellness program, “At Pemetic [Elementary School], this has been happening for the full year. And I think the staff would tell you they have found it fun and engaging and that there’s a stronger, [more] cohesive climate because of this.”
Areas of focus for the pilot program were drinking more water, monitoring blood pressure, achieving a healthy weight and addressing anxiety and depression.
Board member Kristi Losquadro said she supported the funding to promote employee wellness on a trial basis.
“I think it’s a great use of the money, but before we renew it next year, I’d like to have the wellness ambassadors come in and let everybody know how it’s been received. Does the staff like it?”
Gousse said in his funding proposal that the program would be evaluated this fall “for evidence of efficacy in supporting staff health and wellness.”
“If it were determined that it should continue, this would ensure that there would be time to make a recommendation for inclusion in local school budgets for the 2020-2021 school year.”
Under the first-year funding plan that the school board approved, Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Elementary and MDI High School will each have two wellness ambassadors. Pemetic, Tremont Consolidated School and Trenton Elementary will each have one.
The nine ambassadors will each receive a $1,000 stipend. In addition, each school, including those on the outer islands, will receive some funds for wellness activities or incentives.
The high school will be assessed the most, $7,188; Frenchboro the least, $233.