Making wellness fun is the cornerstone of success. Michelle Welch, RD, LMNT, is the District Wellness Facilitator for Lincoln Public Schools managing wellness efforts for over 8,000 staff and 39,000+ students throughout the 56 school education system in Lincoln, Nebraska. Wellness has been the passionate focus of this dietitian’s practice since early on, growing from within her dietetics practice over 22 years as a corporate wellness developer as well as inpatient, outpatient, rehabilitation and community health dietitian prior to taking on the challenge of improving the health of the Lincoln community through schools.
Michelle Welch, RD, LMNT, District Wellness Facilitator, Lincoln Public Schools
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, BS Nutrition and Dietetics, Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis Medical Center, Dietetic Internship.
WELCOA Faculty Member. Certificates: WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks, Well Workplace University: Managing Workplace Initiatives and Empowering Employees, Eat Right for Life, Walking 4 Wellness.
Commission Dietetic Registration: Three Certificates in Weight Management for Adults, Adolescents and Children (Highest levels offered achieved).
Outstanding Dietitian of the Year 2014 Lincoln District, Jeanne Vierk Yeuter Award, Rotary Fellow.
Passion and joy of seeing the impact of wellness on people’s health over 22 years.
Growth in every area has been built upon my dietetics degree.
Prior to work with Lincoln Public Schools, my most successful program was the Lifestyle Challenge, an annual healthy body weight and physical activity initiative with longitudinal tracking of participant success, establishing lifestyle champions for those making long-term changes in health.
The focus of Lincoln Public Schools is to build a culture of wellness through interactive initiatives, policy and environmental change addressing the six dimensions of wellness. Success is currently best measured through changes in student obesity and fitness levels, quarterly LPS Wellness Challenge engagement, personal health assessment engagement, and changes noted within annual district wellness investigations measuring social and environmental change.
b. What worked best?
The Lifestyle Challenge is an excellent model for addressing obesity/healthy body weight and physical activity. The success of the program has been replicated in four other communities throughout the Midwest and has built its foundation on long-term program focus.
Joint efforts to approach holistic health for students and staff have been bolstered through the success of the LPS Wellness Challenges provided quarterly throughout the school year, addressing the diverse issues of wellness and providing energy to wellness approaches. They are the energy builder for cultural change for students and staff as well as within the Lincoln community.
Students in Lincoln have significantly decreased obesity levels over four years, headed to the goal of Fit by 2015.
Data has shown significant correlation between student fitness and academic success in math and reading and has been published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2013. Cultural change has been greatly impacted by academic achievement correlation to weight and fitness.
In 2013 over 22,000 challenges were returned by students and staff. Businesses in Lincoln, are now partnering to coordinate their wellness efforts for staff to match with what is impacting their children. Over 60% of eligible staff completed the personal health assessment in 2013 without a high financial or insurance incentive. This engagement has increased significantly from 40% in 2010, reflecting cultural and behavioral change in a large workforce. Weekly Wellness Wednesday communications are exchanged with staff and through social media.
Both LPS Quarterly Challenges and the earlier Lifestyle Challenge reflect the 7 Benchmarks.
CEO/Superintendent have participated and promoted programs. Example: Wellness given time at Administration Leadership Days.
Wellness champions represent school wellness teams and meet monthly to share best practices. Teams have been part of each challenge, school/group successes celebrated.
Programs involve significant data collection to measure progress, evaluation incorporated using Prochaska’s Stages of Change model. Measurement of successful goal accomplishment and evaluation.
Plans are carefully built to meet needs and well communicated.
Interventions are appropriate to critical health needs of each population addressing the six dimensions of wellness.
Wellness champion involvement is critical to relationships. Weekly messages, wellness website and social media support cultural changes. Annual School Wellness Investigations measure changes in school environments.
Integrated evaluation has continued to shape changes in challenge approaches. Examination of outcomes helps reflect individual and cultural change.
A. I walk the talk of living a healthy lifestyle with this mantra: Fun=Motivation=Long-term Success. I focus on the six dimensions of wellness and as a mom of two boys, continuing to adjust my plans is critical to staying successful with our busy schedule. Trying new approaches to food, fitness and finding balance keeps living healthy fun.
B. My thousands of clients over 22 years have taught me so much about human behavior, challenges and success. WELCOA resources, dietitian certification programs and continuing education have been formal education resources to ensure a scientific basis to support my efforts. Work with media and leadership in organizations has fueled growth.
C. My advice to other wellness practitioners would be to be real, to be fact based and to be out there. Volunteering for leadership in professional organizations, mentoring others and saying yes to challenges will lead to unexpected growth both personally and professionally. Follow your passion, it will lead you great places.
A. Innovation Examples:
1) Combining staff and student challenges.
2) Exploring relationships of academic success, fitness and obesity.
3) Engaging wellness champions from each school to promote communication and best practices.
4) Partnering with worksites in the community to expand the reach of efforts.
5) Engage local media, social media and wellness website to expand reach.
1) Engagement of 22,000+ challenge responses in 2013.
2) Cultural shift of leadership with link between academic success and fitness.
3) Shift in health, behavior and cultural changes with best practices shared, including decreasing obesity rate for four years running.
4) Engagement of businesses partnering for challenges with the schools creating cultural change.
5) Regular features on the news and hosting show Simple Choices on the Mayor’s Health Channel as well as In the Kitchen with Michelle segments on nutrition education. Social media growth (Example 700+ Twitter followers).
Threats: The physical focus is out of balance with the other dimensions of wellness. We need to better support social, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and spiritual wellness. Just as we are focusing on the whole child in education, so should the focus be on the whole adult. Misinformation is pervasive! Well trained health professionals need to lead the charge, backed by sound evidence.
Opportunities: Leading our communities in a sound direction will be easier than ever, due to increased public interest and cultural change. More well trained health professionals are moving toward a wellness and prevention focus. Use of existing, low/no cost routes to provide information and support are readily available, we just need to be the voices people are hearing.
In the next five years, I will work to grow systems which enhance, empower and support the health of our LPS community of students, families and staff.