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School staff hit the virtual trail to promote emotional and social health


by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter

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The staff at LES took on a virtual hiking challenge as a way to increase social and emotional well being while they work to do their best for students district wide. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
March 24, 2021
LANCASTER — Roughly one year ago last week, COVID-19 shut down schools across the country, leaving educators to face unprecedented challenges. It all happened so fast, that school staff members struggled with how to make a shift into remote learning; however, it was 'mission accomplished' before too long.

SAU 36 SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and Wellness Coordinator Kelly Dussault said, "Upon the return to school this year, Lancaster and Whitefield Elementary Schools wanted to respond to not only the academic and social emotional needs of their students, but equally the needs of their staff, recognizing the emotional toll Covid has taken on many of our educators too."

In September, Lancaster Elementary School created a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Wellness School Advancement Team.

Dussault explained, "This is one of many school advancement teams being rolled out at LES, that will support the health, wellbeing and forward momentum that LES has begun. Whitefield Elementary School equally created a school team to look at staff wellness, and both schools supported one other in the rollout of early wellness initiatives."

The team determined that one of the top three priorities was supporting the social emotional well-being of their staff. That said, they recognized that they had to be creative in their efforts, as traditional group activities, staff meetings and other opportunities to connect were now limited.

Dussault explained one idea the team drumed up, "So, LES decided to take to the trails- hiking that is and virtual at that. Members of the school advancement team initially challenged our entire staff to hike the AT trail together, logging our steps collectively on a shared Google sheet to achieve a group goal."

She went on to explain the project, "This AT trail encompasses 2,189 miles or 5,000,000 steps. This challenge began on Nov 18th, and we completed it on Dec. 26. We were then up for our next challenge, the Pacific Crest trail, which totals 2,653 miles or nearly 6,300,000 steps."

Dussault said they began this challenge on Jan 7th and completed it by Feb. 16.

"Our current virtual hiking adventure has led us to the Continental Divide Trail which is the final trail of the Triple Crown of hikes and is 3100 miles long. After just one and half weeks of logging steps, we are nearly through New Mexico," she added.

Whitefield Elementary School created their unique version, "Pirates to the Caribbean," with a mission to walk from Whitefield to Miami, Fla., totaling 1,662 miles or 3,324,000 steps, and then row the rest of the way to the Port of Bridgetown, Barbados, totaling 1781 nautical miles.

Dussault closed by saying, "As we recognize many of these types of "challenges" are individual in their traditional set-up (who can walk the most steps), we felt the time was ripe and necessary to work together, collectively as a staff to accomplish our goals. In doing so, we are not only supporting the physical and emotional wellbeing of our staff, but we are focusing on positive school climate, connection and having a little fun in our efforts even among our COVID times."

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