Filling in the Blanks with Melanie Kay-Wyatt: Striving for healthy minds, bodies

Filling in the Blanks with Melanie Kay-Wyatt:  Striving for healthy minds, bodies

By Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D

The stress that comes with trying to do your best, juggle a busy workload, be popular and achieve success can be daunting. And yes, this can take a toll both mentally and physically. Perhaps that is why this month we observe both Mental Health Awareness Month and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, because one aspect of our health affects the other.

While our students and staff may be generations apart, both face the challenges that come with learning, teaching and living. Add to that, nothing is really private anymore. This is an era when our triumphs and tribulations are subject to being posted on social media and comments are not always kind and sometimes can be downright cruel.

Systems of support for students in Alexandria City Public Schools and wellness initiatives for staff address social and emotional concerns and other health-related issues that may arise due to life’s pressures. Responding to the health care needs of our students, ACPS is fortunate to have a registered nurse in all of our schools.

Every ACPS school also has a dedicated Student Support Team composed of counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses. This team of school professionals supports our students in the areas of social-emotional and behavioral development and health and wellness as well as academics and college and career. Student Support Teams partner with teachers, administrators and other school staff in planning for and implementing programs that build resilience, foster student strengths and ensure that every child thrives. These teams are also available to assist families with questions or concerns about mental health, behavioral challenges and physical well-being and how to access school and community resources.

The ACPS Department of Human Resources is dedicated to supporting our employees, students and their families. Our employee wellness program is built around six tenants of wellness: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social and environmental well-being. This program is designed to encourage ACPS staff to take control of their health and overall wellness, offering support through our Employee Assistance Program, Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealthcare healthy lifestyle initiatives.

Realizing balance is essential for wellness, our Wellness Policy included nutrition education, physical activity and school-based activities designed to promote staff and student wellness.

Developed in collaboration with teachers, administrators, parents, physicians, registered dietitian nutritionists, registered nurses and the School Health Advisory Board, our wellness strategy is one that focuses on improving the health of students and supporting their families.

Taking a proactive approach to our employees’ health and welfare, the ACPS Compensation and Benefits team is planning an event this summer to address staying active, maintaining a balanced diet and scheduling annual wellness visits for health, vision and dental. This fall, a mental health awareness event will help staff to mentally transition from the summer break into a new school year.

Through the school division’s partnership with Hazel Health, our families have virtual access for students to mental health services with licensed professionals. This telehealth service is available to assist students who are coping with anxiety, stress, depression, bullying, substance use and other issues impacting their ability to be in school and learn. Hazel Health serves as an additional tool for school health staff to support student well-being.

In an effort to reach out to students in need, ACPS’ “We Care About All of You!” campaign posters have been placed in each of our secondary schools. The messaging helps direct students to various resources, including academic support, mental health tools, substance abuse resources and the ACPS Anonymous Reporting System.

Among additional resources available for ACPS staff are Move2Learn-At-Home, Mindful Mondays and Well-Being Wednesday webinars through Kaiser Permanente, a chair yoga webinar and access to the Calm App that uses meditation and mindfulness to help lower stress, reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Let’s live true to the saying, by an unknown author, “The mind and body are not separate. What affects one, affects the other.”

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.