School employees sent walking…for their healthFeb 06, 2023 02:41PM ● By Jet Burnham
Megan Singleton rock climbs. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Howa)
Catherine Crosby hates exercising but she knows she needs to do it.
It’s become easier for her this year. Crosby, a language arts teacher at West Jordan Middle School, is participating in the Iron Lion Challenge for school employees. For every 30 minutes of movement or 3,000 steps, she marks off a box on the challenge tracker.
“The Iron Lion challenge has shown me that I can get healthy by being aware of my steps,” Crosby said. “I've also started doing yoga and dancing again. Checking off my exercise on our tracker has been motivating to me because I have to answer to it.”
Crosby said the benefits have been both physical and mental.
“I feel healthier and have more energy,” she said. “Moving more is good for my mental health as well because it helps me feel like I'm accomplishing something.”
WJMS health teacher Kathy Howa came up with the challenge that rewards everyone no matter their fitness level. Every teacher, aide, custodian, lunch worker, office staff, counselor and administrator received an Iron Lion T-shirt and was invited to participate.
Howa said the buy-in has been great. In the first semester of the year, school employees logged more than 1,988 hours of exercise.
“They are realizing this is kind of fun,” Howa said. “They find all different ways to exercise and they're finding out that they already do stuff and then they're able to mark it down and then they want to do more.”
The challenge has inspired groups of employees to take a walk together during their breaks and after school. Some have gone hiking and snowshoeing together. Howa has received positive feedback from colleagues who said they wouldn’t be moving this much if it weren’t for the challenge.
The goal of the challenge is to increase employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. Howa said even those who are walking a little bit more than they used to are getting benefits. A bonus benefit is that it is increasing unity.
“It's really building community throughout the school because it's a little friendly competition, and people share videos or pictures of how they've been active or moving,” science teacher Ally Jelitto said.
Jelitto shares her love of movement by teaching daily morning meditations with movement and weekly yoga sessions for school employees.
“The biggest takeaway, at least for me, is it's been good to connect with teachers or staff that I hadn’t in the past,” Jelitto said.
Kaylynn Schiffman agrees. She’s been a hall monitor at WJMS for six years, but because she doesn't participate in teacher meetings, she doesn’t know many of the teachers well.
“I feel like with us all doing this, it has brought me closer with the staff,” she said.
Schiffman was one of the semester winners of the challenge because she averages 10,000-12,000 steps a day just as part of her job. The Iron Lion challenge inspired her to be more active on the weekends and to track her food habits, which has helped her lose 21 pounds.
“I just decided, if I'm doing all those steps and making an effort to count my steps, I might as well make an effort to count my intake,” she said.
Reading teacher Michelle Bagley has also been inspired— she said this is the first fitness program she’s taken seriously.
“The Iron Lion Challenge has helped me be more intentional about fitness and helped actually do it,” Bagley said. “I always have good intentions about getting healthier, but they always fall through. Apparently I need a village to make it happen, and I love knowing my fellow teachers are in this with me.”
Bagley has adopted new healthier habits.
“I started walking more so I could put marks on my spreadsheet, so now I don't circle a parking lot twelve times to find the best spot, I walk,” she said.
She has also experimented with new ways to get moving. She uses an under-the-desk cycle machine while grading papers. She is trying a new online exercise program and got a dance program for her Nintendo Switch so she can exercise while playing with her grandchildren.
“The Iron Lion Challenge at our school has made a huge difference in my attitude and how I feel,” Bagley said. “I only set out to prove to the school I wasn't a couch potato and a team player, but I feel better, and even though weight loss wasn't my goal, I've dropped seven pounds just by adding a little bit more exercise to my everyday routine.”
Challenge participants earn prizes such as water tumblers, trail mix bars, school swag and Lion King merchandise. There are two floating trophies which weekly winners for Most Improved and Most Hours get to display in their classrooms for that week.
Because of her competitive nature, special education teacher Kasi Monsen is very motivated to participate in the challenge.
“Winning is something I like doing, so I think, ‘I can do the most steps, I can go to volleyball instead of sitting on the couch and watching a movie today,’” Monsen said. “Obviously my health has to be important to me, but yeah, it's a little bit more motivating to win.”
Her choices have paid off. Monsen was another of the semester winners.
Jordan School District prioritizes the wellness of employees and has wellness committees at each school and an entire department at the district. Friday, Feb. 10 has been scheduled as the 2nd Annual Health and Wellness Virtual Day.
Instead of being required to be at the school on that day, JSD employees will be encouraged to engage in activities that benefit their physical and mental health. JSD will be providing group exercise classes and professional development workshops focused on mental health topics during the day. Employees who participate in activities will earn prizes.
“The intent is to give employees some time to prioritize their personal wellness,” District Health and Wellness Consultant McKinley Withers said. “This is one of many opportunities that the district is looking at to try and give employees a better sense of wellness, because when adults are taken care of, they'll take better care of our kids.”
There will also be options and resources for students and their families to focus on their health and wellness on Feb. 10, which is not an in-person learning day. More information about the Annual Employee Health and Wellness Day and other wellness resources can be found at wellness.jordandistrict.org.