MSU kinesiology faculty member helps local teachers counter stress with new wellness program

Contact: Camille Carskadon

A large building on the right has raised beds and other gardening infrastructure prepared outdoors.
Learning garden spaces are prepared at the Partnership Middle School, where a grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is providing for a variety of wellness programs and activities to emphasize healthy living. Faculty and students from MSU’s Department of Kinesiology also are working with the wellness initiative. (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A Mississippi State faculty member is helping local school district faculty and staff reduce stress, thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.

Megan Holmes, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Kinesiology, is working with the Starkville Oktibbeha School District as part of the Wellness Initiative for Starkville Partnerships, or WISP, project at the Partnership Middle School.

“The overall purpose of the program is wellness, but also with special emphasis on stress reduction for the faculty and staff,” Holmes said.

Before implementing the program, the administration knew they needed some way of assessing its impact, which is how Holmes became involved. Amanda Tullos, SOCSD/MSU Partnership School Director and Education Liaison, said Holmes and her students have helped shape the program over the course of the semester, including a baseline assessment for the Partnership School’s staff. They also are helping lead various wellness activities.

“Dr. Holmes and her students’ involvement in the program has been really great. They are leading our walking club, checking heart rates and keeping time as well as leading a few of our exercise classes,” Tullos said.

After assessing the teachers’ health, fitness and stress levels, Holmes said the program kicked off with walking two days a week and a different form of exercise every Wednesday. For the mid-week exercise time, the WISP team reached out to local community members to gauge interest in leading classes such as Pilates, yoga and Zumba.

“We are trying to get the teachers outside for exercise any day we can. On nice days, we all walk on the school’s outdoor walking track and hold our Wednesday exercise classes in the outdoor pavilion,” Holmes said. “There’s some research that has looked at how going outside and being in nature has some stress-reduction qualities. Being outside and doing exercise is really the best of both worlds in regard to staying healthy and reducing stress.”

In addition to Holmes’ baseline health, fitness and stress assessments, she and her students also will do concluding assessments. The health initiative continues until May.

“The research that will be gathered from this one program could be used in the school district and beyond to see what wellness initiatives could look like going forward,” Tullos said.

Additionally, the grant supports outdoor classrooms, learning gardens and other wellness facilities. The grant includes funds for multiple school gardens and mobile kitchens to allow students to participate in meaningful, hands-on experiences that will include planting, harvesting, cooking and tasting opportunities. A Gardening and Overall Wellness classroom will offer all sixth-grade students a nine-week introduction to nutrition, health and physical fitness. The exploratory class also will include similar activities, and seventh-grade students may choose to take the course as a semester-long elective. The project additionally includes plans for a greenhouse, school market, family cooking nights and fitness challenges.

MSU’s Department of Kinesiology is part of the university’s College of Education. Established in 1903, the college is home to six academic departments, one research unit and numerous service units. For more, visit

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