The O’Farrell Charter School staff members dedicate their lives to helping shape vibrant, successful futures for their underrepresented student body.

This high level of daily engagement can be exhausting for staff, especially for instructors. The demands of teaching high-needs students requires lots of patience, care and compassion.

OCS recognizes that its staff deserve the same level of excellent care that they give to their students. As such, this year OCS launched their new Employee Wellness Program. It is completely free, and all staff members are welcome to participate.

While employee wellness programs may not be anything new in the private sector, they are rare in the public education arena.

“I wanted to bring a fitness program to OCS because research shows that healthier employees produce a more positive and productive work environment,” said Dr. Jonathan Dean, superintendent of OCS and Ingenuity Charter School. “I felt if I implemented [an employee wellness program], then ultimately, our students would benefit too.”

How and Why the Wellness Program Works

Five days a week, certified physical trainer Nick Bates comes to OCS to hold a one-hour group fitness class in the school’s beautifully renovated workout room. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, an early morning class is offered. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, class takes place in the afternoon.

“I am so happy that we have the option to attend either in the morning or afternoon,” said Mireya Diaz-Ruiz, OCS school clerk. “I’m also thankful that the program continues through the summer for those of us who work 12-month positions.”

There are no set fitness routines in the OCS wellness program. The daily classes are always different, rotating muscle groups and types of movement for maximum results and to keep participants interested.

“Some days are more cardio-focused, some are more focused on strength,” said Bates. “I try to come up with different styles of workouts or introduce new movements on a regular basis. My primary goal is to keep them engaged in physical activity while having fun.”

Having a knowledgeable, experienced trainer like Bates is important, as he is able to modify any exercise to fit all levels of ability. He ensures participants are not overextending themselves, or conversely, are getting enough of a challenge.

“Nick’s expertise is greatly appreciated,” said Norma Perez-Bernal, OCS site technician. “Since he goes above and beyond what a regular trainer would do, he provides insight and modifies a custom work-out to make sure that we all hit our target areas.”

Although the OCS wellness program is rooted in physical fitness, being physically active often brings about an improved state of emotional and mental well-being too. Numerous scientific studies have linked physical activity to helping alleviate issues like stress, anxiety and depression.

“I would describe ‘wellness’ as being both physically and mentally healthy,” said Bates. “What ‘healthy’ means can differ from person to person. But when your mind and body both feel good, I would say you have achieved wellness.”

The Benefits of Wellness Are Vast

It is this holistic definition of wellness – the body and mind aligned and feeling good – that OCS hopes to help its staff achieve. But there h

ave been many other benefits of the wellness program, including increased social support and interaction between staff members.

“Beyond getting in shape and becoming healthier, the benefits of this program can be seen in the resulting team-building that has come from it,” said Pamela Barry, OCS vice principal. “Throughout the workday, staff encourage each other to attend the workouts or to

eat better. A camaraderie has developed to help us continue the workouts and a healthy lifestyle.”

Another major benefit of the wellness program is the convenience. It’s hard to find the time to work out consistently, especially for parents of young children.

For example, Barry noted that with two young kids of her own at home, trying to find childcare to go to the gym is difficult. The OCS wellness program is a wonderful solution, because she can simply go into work one hour earlier.

On the other hand, for parents like Ruiz where early morning doesn’t work for their child’s schedule, they can simply stay one hour later to attend the afternoon class. OCS employees don’t need to worry about childcare, driving to and from the gym or paying for an expensive fitness membership.

Perhaps most importantly, the program has led to increased energy and improved self-confidence in OCS participants – things that can help elevate every aspect of a person’s life.

“Participating in the Wellness Program has helped my self-confidence and made me look at exercise in a new light,” said Perez. “Nick has truly helped me make changes for life; I now enjoy working out and eating healthier, something that I dreaded prior to joining the program. I look forward to a continued relationship with our trainer and fitness team!”

Visit The O’Farrell Charter School online, and learn how our staff members transfer the positive impact of the Wellness Program to the classroom. 

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