While many people across the nation responded to the arrival of COVID-19 by putting on “pandemic pounds” and feeling a sense of isolation and even depression, faculty and staff in the Manchester-Shortsville Central School District (Red Jacket) were meeting a challenge.

The mini-challenges, as they were known to many, were open to some 175 Red Jacket faculty and staff.

The effort succeeded in its primary goal of helping keep faculty and staff physically, mentally and emotionally healthy during a challenging time, Tracey Snieszko says with a note of pride.

She serves as a wellness coordinator for the district, and teaches six classes of health and family/consumer science—two middle school, four high school — in a typical semester.

The mini-challenges were held over a four-week period in April and May. Faculty and staff were challenged to engage in an activity that promoted their own physical or mental health. They took selfies of themselves in the middle of that activity and shared them with the group.

The selfies were posted online and voted on by faculty and staff. Winners received gift cards.

“[The pandemic] is a strange time,” Snieszko says. “No one has been here before, so our idea was to start by taking care of ourselves. It was kind of — if we are well, if we take care of ourselves and be the best that we can be, we will be in the best position to serve our students and have a positive impact on them.”

The selfies submitted by faculty and staff were not exactly teachers doing push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks.

One depicted a woman giving herself a facial. Another made doughnuts. One walked the family dog. Another constructed a chicken coop. One got to see her new grandbaby. Another opened a backyard pool while it was snowing.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of physical activity, as much as it was activities designed to maintain and enhance mental and emotional wellness,” Snieszko adds.

At first, selfies were only coming back from the usual suspects, the people who always seem to participate in faculty/staff wellness exercises. But as it went along, enthusiasm became infectious. Several faculty and staff who weren’t expected to take part, did.

For Snieszko, that was a marker of success.

“With this effort, we wanted to stay on people’s minds, to acknowledge that this is a strange time for us all,” she says. “We wanted to stay connected and let faculty and staff know we’re here to help, to support them, to reinforce the message that we’re not alone.”

For her own part, Snieszko did a fair amount of running, as well as puzzle solving, to stay physically and mentally fit. She adds with a laugh that she had help from her energetic 7-year-old daughter.

With the future course of the pandemic — both in New York and everywhere else — exactly what Red Jacket’s fall semester will look like is still a bit of a question mark. If the much-anticipated second wave of the outbreak becomes a reality and the district finds itself in a position similar to last spring, shelter-in-place could conceivably return.

Should that be the case, Sniesko says she and Red Jacket’s wellness committee members will be ready with more morale-boosting activities that remind faculty and staff that although they are separated, they are not alone.

“This is one of the things we could certainly do again,” she says. “Next time around — if there is a next time — I think we’d try to expand it to give faculty and staff more choices, to encourage as much participation as possible.”

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