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West Jordan Journal

Teachers get a day to renew, recharge, refocus

Mar 02, 2022 07:43PM ● By Jet Burnham

Jordan District employees enjoy some yoga and relaxation after a hectic few months (and years.) (Photo courtesy of Jordan District.)

Jet Burnham | [email protected]

In the weeks leading up to and during the omicron surge in January, schools were dealing with unprecedented staffing shortages.

At Columbia Elementary, there was a week when seven teachers and five aides were absent. Because subs were difficult to find, assistant principals and aides took some classes, while others were combined into one large class. Even lunchroom workers pitched in to cover shortages in the custodial staff.

“It was just exhausting,” Principal Abe Yospe said. “It just took a lot out of us as a faculty. If we didn't have the omnicron variant, then we were dealing with the impact of the omnicron variant. We were just scrambling for about two weeks.”

To help their employees through this rough time, Jordan School District officials implemented a substitute teacher incentive bonus, which helped increase the sub pool. When the shortages affected bus drivers, JSD’s director of transportation, district administrative staff and district mechanics took on bus routes to help drivers, who were covering multiple routes. Board of Education member Darrell Robinson pledged to take every Friday off work to help with custodial duties at local schools.

“It's really impressive to me, but not surprising, how employees reach out to support each other, to chip in, to work to do whatever they can to support each other personally and professionally,” Superintendent Anthony Godfrey said.

But he knew employees needed something more. So, the Flex Friday (online day) scheduled for Feb. 11 was adapted to become a health and wellness day.

“It's just a chance for us to stop and focus on student, family and employee health and wellness as we gear up for the remainder of the year,” Godfrey said. “It's been a very difficult year, perhaps the most difficult, and so I think everyone benefits from taking time to take care of themselves and to refocus.”

District employees were invited to use the day to catch up on work (without having to fit in time to meet with students), to use mental health resources or to take a day off (without having to find a sub.) Unlike a professional development day, there were no required meetings or trainings.

“It was wonderful to be able to get caught up on a lot of things that we've put on the backburner and things that I needed to get caught up on that I've been waiting for a chance to but just have not had an opportunity,” Yospe said. “It was just a really relaxing, nice day and a good way to reset and recharge our batteries.”

West Jordan Elementary teachers went jogging together, worked quietly in their rooms and even played an impromptu game of hide and seek in the school building.

Principal Jennifer Ludlow said it was a much-needed extra day for teachers to get caught up on work but also to relax, enjoy each other’s company and have fun together.

“Teachers just don’t ever have time mid-year to get some things done on their own terms and go to lunch together and plan together or just get stuff done in the rooms,” she said.

Jordan District offered employees and students access to 50 on-demand health and wellness classes through the Cook Center for Human Connection. Additionally, yoga classes were offered at two middle schools. District staff also taught classes, in-person and remotely, to help employees manage personal and professional stress.

Westland Elementary third grade teacher Belynda Paxton attended one of the offered classes on classroom management.

“All my 30 years of tricks are not working,” she said. “I need to have a fresh perspective, see if they have anything that will help me help [students] do better. Because I still have so much to teach them but it's like I spend most of my time managing.”

Paxton also enjoyed sleeping in, going for a walk and watching videos about meditation and breathing. She also took advantage of the free drinks local Swig locations were offering teachers.

Several local businesses also provided district employees free access to gyms and fitness centers.

Godfrey hoped the day helped employees renew, recharge and refocus.

“I also hope that it's just the beginning of a continued focus on individual health and wellness going forward,” he said.