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War Horse Program hopes to inspire and engage local teachers

Teacher Wellness Center aims to keep teachers fit and healthy

Stacy M. Brown | 9/4/2015, 6 a.m.
A 1,574-square-foot wellness center equipped with treadmills, exercise machines, bikes, a rowing machine and more opened at the Francis Scott ...
(Left to right) Wes Simms, Executive Vice President, FX Well, Nate Costa, CEO FX Well, FSK teachers Bethany Davis, Brad Rutherford, Mickelli Dunn, Principal, Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School, Dr. Gregory E. Thornton, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, Dana DiCarlo, War Horse, Scott Plank, Founder, War Horse, Dr. Lorretta Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Teachers, FSK teacher Lauren Diresta, Eric Costello, Baltimore City Councilman, 11th District (Photo: Eric Stocklin)

A 1,574-square-foot wellness center equipped with treadmills, exercise machines, bikes, a rowing machine and more opened at the Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School in Locust Point on Thursday, August 27, 2015. The first of its kind center is part of a public-private partnership that school officials say they are simply delighted about.

(Front left to right) Teacher Wellness Champions Bethany Davis, Lauren Diresta, Jill Thomas, Matt Mutolo, Brad Rutherford

(Photo: Eric Stocklin)

(Front left to right) Teacher Wellness Champions Bethany Davis, Lauren Diresta, Jill Thomas, Matt Mutolo, Brad Rutherford

Scott Plank, founder of the real estate and philanthropy company War Horse, was the driving force behind the center, which he says is an effort designed to foster health and fitness among teachers whom students view as role models.

“A lot of the lion’s share of the resources goes to the kids, as it should be,” Plank said. “But, we thought we could deliver the same kinds of resources to teachers.”

Plank joined Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Dr. Gregory E. Thornton, American Federation of Teachers Secretary and Treasurer Dr. Loretta Johnson, FX Well CEO Nate Costa and others to celebrate the grand opening of the Teachers Wellness Center, which was funded by the J.S. Plank & D.M. DiCarlo Family Foundation as part of a multi-year commitment to the school.

Over the past three years, Plank has funded the redesign and renovations of the student cafeteria and teacher collaboration spaces, modeled after private sector designs.

The new center is an integrated model of health and wellness based on the philosophy that by caring for teachers, “We can better care for our children,” Plank said, citing research studies he said clearly indicate that on-site wellness programs have the potential to attract qualified employees and to positively affect productivity and efficiency.

Participation in employee health promotion programs reduces absenteeism related to health issues such as stress, obesity and cardiovascular disease, according to officials. Besides the health benefits, wellness programs can have a positive effect on teamwork, morale, and teacher effectiveness.

“We believe that collaboration through our philanthropic investment in facilities and innovative programming which encourages and supports healthy lifestyle for our public servants is a key formula for improving our communities,” Plank said. “The Teacher Wellness Center is an extension of this philosophy and it complements our previous work at FSK.”

“Through our efforts in real estate, hospitality, and philanthropy projects such as Anthem House, Belvedere Square, our police fitness and training centers, and now this Teacher Wellness Center, we are investing in our hometown and demonstrating our commitment to Baltimore everyday,” he said.

Thornton said the center is a welcome addition.

“Our teachers are critical in advancing student achievement, so anything we can do to improve their health and well-being is good for them, good for our schools, and good for our students,” he said.

The American Federation of Teachers look forward to working with the district, the community and local businesses to create more opportunities similar to the new center, Johnson said.

“To continue to improve the quality and academic achievement of Baltimore’s students, we must also improve the quality of life, the health and the productivity of teachers and school-related staff,” she said.

Also, FX Well, which aims to optimize organizational health and wellness by connecting and engaging employees and teammates, is working closely with War Horse and the Institute of Integrative Health to develop customized baseline testing procedures for a FSK Wellness Program, according to Costa.

“The Teacher Wellness Center model is an approach to health that we see often in the private sector, but is underrepresented in school systems, an area with high burnout rates and high stress,” Costa said.