JACKSON — The art and practice of wellness can feel like an overwhelming concept. How does one even begin?

Heather Kocubinski said practicing wellness can be as simple as taking a deep breath and going for a short walk before diving into that unfolded pile of clothes that, let’s be honest, you know has been sitting on your couch for a week.

“The same answer doesn’t apply to everyone,” she said. “Wellness is really personal and you have to figure out what works best for you.”

Kocubinski is a Wilson resident by way of the East Coast, pre-pandemic. Moving to the mountains with her husband and two children who now attend Wilson Elementary School, Kocubinski is Teton County School District’s newest addition to the Human Resources Department.

As the “benefits and wellness specialist” she is perhaps the most significant nod to staff well being, a tangible acknowledgement by those in district leadership who are looking at ways to boost mental, physical and emotional health of educators and staff.

“I want to make the staff feel that they are a vital piece of the community,” said Kocubinski, who recognizes the seen and unseen challenges facing teachers, administrators and staff who work to support students in unprecedented times.

Before Kocubinski headed to the Tetons, she worked with corporate leadership integrating professional wellness care practices. 

As she joined the school district this spring, she sought to take the district’s pulse — visiting schools, talking with staff and sending out surveys to drill down to really understand how she could work to keep teachers healthy, staff supported and shoulders more relaxed under the straining pressures of classroom demands.

“For me, it’s important to take care of yourself,” Kocubinski said. “It makes me feel better when I exercise and eat something that’s really good and healthy. And that kind of practice can be contagious. People pick up on how you are feeling and that is a contagious kind of movement. And when you are feeling appreciated and recognized, that improves the overall mood of the workplace and the community. It’s essential to take time for yourself. It’s OK to take the fitness class, rather than do the laundry. You will come back to it,” she said of that pile of laundry.

This October she launched the first blush of a new program called Wellness 22, designed to get to the heart of the unique needs facing district staff.

“We completed our first two district-wide events — mobile on-site flu shots and Stay Healthy 22. The on-site flu shot program was done in collaboration with public health. It took place over the course of two days in October at the town schools. We were able to reach seven schools and provide 194 flu vaccines,” Kocubinski said.

Stay Healthy 22 was an on-site educational event promoting cold and flu prevention, she said.

“We were able to reach 14 buildings for a total of 263 employees,” she said. “Each attendee received an immune boosting juice sample, a eucalyptus shower steamer, and healthy recipes. TCSD school nurses were there to answer questions and provide information on cold and flu prevention. For those who were unable to attend the event, extra juice and shower steamers were left in the building for them to pick up at their convenience.”

Kocubinski is also hosting free ski fitness courses led by James Howell, the principal at Colter Elementary, and Cody Hansen, the sixth- grade physical education teacher. There is also a yoga class hosted by popular Jackson instructor Charlotte Souter.

Kocubinski said the programming also feels successful because so many local businesses have stepped up to donate their time and goods to this mission, including Whole Foods, Teton County Public Health and Healthy Being Juicery, to name a few.

“It takes a village, and it’s been amazing and appreciative to have these businesses and community members support us,” she said.

She added that this was just the beginning. Looking ahead, Kocubonski is hopeful that programming will include access to individual mental health counseling services.

Working to support district staff to be well and to stay well is a journey that takes practice. Kocubonski hopes the movement will be contagious.

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