While programs to improve student wellness have been in schools for years, some districts now are focusing on staff health as well. Teachers in Batesville, Indiana, have participated in fitness competitions and this year some are training for a mini-marathon. Included: Components of a staff wellness program.
The initiatives sweeping into schools to get students in better physical shape have washed up to the front of the classroom.
To set an example for students and to improve employees overall health, some districts are launching fitness and wellness programs for staff members. One of those, the Batesville (Indiana) Community School Corporation (BCSC), has been using competitions among buildings and community as well as in-school activities to get teachers and administrators moving and thinking about more healthful lifestyles. This year, some are even training for a mini-marathon.
I think it's important to get staff involved, not just for themselves, but it's important for the kids to see teachers involved in physical activity, said Gayla Vonderheide, the corporation's director of health services.
Since the program started in 2004, participation among staff members has increased, and the number and cost of health insurance claims has decreased, superintendent of schools Dr. Jim Roberts told Education World. While the average annual increase in the cost of health insurance premiums is between 13 and 15 percent, Batesvilles has been between 5 and 7 percent since the program began. Morale has improved as well, Roberts said. Participation in the various screenings, competitions, and exercise programs grew as different activities were introduced. Some felt the need, or the pressure, to participate, he noted.
Melissa Burton, principal of Batesville Primary School, said the staff fitness initiative has changed our conversations. The obvious thing is we're talking healthier, like what we do after work to exercise. Some teachers meet in the mornings and work out at houses. One of the school's oldest teachers walks every day; she used to get here early to walk the hallways.
The administration tries to promote fitness all the time, Burton told Education World. I would say about 100 percent of the staff is trying to be more active.
A staff wellness program was a logical complement to the anti-obesity efforts directed at pupils, Roberts added. We were looking at creating a better environment for kids, nutritionally and physically, and one of the ways was addressing wellness of staff, he said. I believe there are positive things for each group; we get a healthier student body and better learning, and fewer staff absences.
This year, central office administrators are encouraging staff members to participate in the Indy 500 Mini-Marathon in May 2011, and interest has been high. A lot of people I thought would not participate said they are going to, Roberts said. We are trying to get as many people as possible to run or walk. At the beginning of November, participants were matched with partners to train for the 13.2-mile course, depending on their level of fitness. Serious walkers and runners from the community were recruited to help with the training, Roberts said, and they also are offering nutrition tips.
As the weather gets colder, school buildings will be kept open later so people can walk and run indoors, and the local YMCA is going to be open some additional hours in winter for runners and walkers. A local business is sponsoring a pasta dinner the night before the race so all the runners can carb up.
Roberts said he has completed a mini-marathon, and wanted the staff to have the opportunity to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a race.
Burton said that she, her husband, sister, and nephew all are training for the mini-marathon. I have actually become a runner, which I never thought I would do, she said. I'm trying to run about four miles every night. This has changed my life -- and my husband's. I have a crazy schedule; I work lots of hours, but being part of something larger forces me to do it.
Teachers also get motivated to exercise after free wellness screenings done at the beginning of the school year, said Vonderheide, the corporations director of health services. After blood tests for cholesterol levels, some people realized they needed to get more active, she said. The district also offers blood pressure checks, body mass index (BMI) analyses, and questionnaires about nutrition and activity levels.
Many staff members also have participated in the American Cancer Society Active for Life program, during which participants wear pedometers and set goals of how many minutes or steps per day they plan to do for ten weeks. Each building has a team, and the team with the highest activity level earns a traveling trophy. I think exercise is really important; teachers have to be healthy to perform their jobs and be good role models, Vonderheide told Education World.
Two primary school staff members also won a contest at the local Y, by lowering their BMI the most over a 10-week exercise program, Burton said. Several teachers have requested a zumba class after school, and Burton is trying to arrange that.
Whether or not students are aware of teachers activities is hard to determine, Roberts said. But healthy eating and exercise are very much part of student life at Batesville. The food choices in the schools became more nutritious a few years ago, students stretch in their classrooms, and elementary students are required to walk at least one lap around the quarter-mile track at recess, he said. [see sidebar]
The cost to the district for the staff program also has been minimal, Roberts told Education World. We've been able to find ways so this is not very expensive, by partnering with agencies and reaching out to volunteers, he said. The only additional expense is a stipend for the director of health services. The corporation is expending time and effort to provide this extra benefit; sometimes we can't provide other things because of funding, but we can do this.
Any school district should be able to institute a program, and Batesville administrators are willing to help, Roberts added. We ran into some obstacles, but at the end of the day, this does help from a student learning perspective. It's well worth it; you can't afford not to do it.
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