Amy Cunningham
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Spring Hill parents and students may notice that they’re seeing less and less of the district’s staff members lately – about 665.9 pounds less, to be exact.
As part of a health and wellness initiative undertaken by USD 230 this school year, some district staff members have been voluntarily participating in a Biggest Loser-style competition and also in a walking program since the beginning of the second semester.
According to assistant superintendent Wayne Burke, the district received a $5,000 grant to use towards helping their employees get healthier from their insurance provider, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which made both programs possible.  The district is using that money to provide small prizes for the staff’s incremental weight loss and exercise.  They have also provided staff members who are walking with pedometers to track their progress.  To sweeten the Biggest Loser pot, participants from each building have contributed $10 a piece, with the total to be split 70/30 between the first and second place finishers.
With over 100 district staff members participating in the weight loss program and 170 participating in the walking programs, the school district is seeing positive changes in their staff, which, they believe, will lead to positive changes in the classroom.
“Our ultimate goal is to get (our staff members) thinking healthy,” stated Burke.  He explained that when staff members start seeing the results of their efforts, whether it is from losing weight or from being more physically fit, that motivates them to make healthy choices in other areas of their lives.  He says a healthier staff will mean a more productive staff for the district and that should spill over into the classrooms.
“I think one of the things, as adults we model our behavior for our kids, whether it is conscious or unconscious.  If our students see adults consciously exercising and talking about these things health-wise, some of that has to get across to the kids…It’s not do as I say, not as I do, it’s do as I say and watch me do it, and to me that is a better example for them.  The kids will see (us) and say, ‘hey, maybe I can do this, I can spend more time outside, instead of playing video games or watching TV, maybe I’ll get out and exercise.’”
Spring Hill Intermediate School teacher and program participant Kim Demings echoed his thoughts.  She said that, as a teacher, when she feels better she is able to give more of herself in the classroom.
“I feel like, if you don’t take care of yourself you don’t have as much to give,” she explained.  “When we as teachers feel better about ourselves and we’re healthier and energetic it comes across to the students.”
Staff members say they have been motivated by the competition to make wise choices when it comes to diet and exercise.  Prairie Creek counselor Deb Lawson knows that the thrill of victory at the end of the race will be much sweeter than what she’s given up.
“Since we’ve started the competition we’ve had our monthly birthday parties, we’ve gone through Valentine’s Day and then Girl Scout cookie time came and went.  I call this the Sweetart time of year, but I haven’t had one since we started.  I bought several boxes of Girl Scout cookies and I gave them away immediately,” she recalled.  “Everybody is focused and working real hard to make healthy choices.  There’s nothing like putting on a pair of pants that at one time you couldn’t even zip up. And when that happens, we are all very excited for each other, even though it is a competition.”
Prairie Creek Nurse Brandi Duncan, one of the contests organizers, said that nurses have been sending out healthy living tips to participants.  Every week, following Wednesday’s weigh in, she compiles a list with an updated a flow sheet so that participants can chart their progress.
“The feedback that I’ve gotten is that there are a lot of competitive people out there,” she laughed.
Spring Hill Middle School principal Steve Fleer says that the programs have helped him to keep his New Year’s resolution.
“It’s a competition – when you’re weighing in there is some accountability. It’s different than doing it on your own,” he explained. “I think people here have been very, very supportive of each other.  Of course it is a competition and I think competition brings out a lot of good things in people.”
Demings said that, in order to maintain her healthy lifestyle, she’s developed a support system outside of the work day.
“I have a computer site that I use where I track fitness and the food I’m eating.  I also have a lot of family members who know what I’m doing, so I’m hoping I’ll stick with it,” she said.
Everybody has their ups and downs, but since I’ve gotten off to, what I feel, is a pretty good start that’ll motivate me and perk me to keep it going once the competition ends.”
The last weigh in for the competition will be Wednesday, March 9.