Since the beginning of the year, Seymour High School junior Emma Ramp has had an opportunity to give a test to some of her former teachers.
As a member of the corporation’s wellness committee, teacher Janet VanLiew was tasked with starting a staff wellness initiative at Seymour Middle School.
One day late last year while VanLiew walked with Ramp’s mother, Robin, they thought having Emma lead the initiative would help her gain some leadership and volunteer experience.
Emma jumped right into it and emailed the middle school staff members to let them know how the program would work. Once she had names of people interested in participating, she created a Google form to track their minutes for nine weeks.
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The goal was to do some type of exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week from the start of the year to the week before spring break. With nearly 20 people registered, the target number at the end of nine weeks was 15,000 minutes.
Emma was happy to see the group reach that mark two weeks early.
“It was surprising,” she said. “I didn’t know they were going to reach it that fast. Fifteen thousand minutes, it sounds like a lot, but they surpassed it.”
Having helped athletes obtain college scholarships when she was a coach and supporting her three children in college, VanLiew thought the experience would be valuable for Emma because she could put it on scholarship, college and job applications.
At the beginning of the year, Emma met with her mother, VanLiew and Maria Hauersperger to come up with a name for the group. Following this year’s theme at the middle school, they chose Healthy Heroes.
Then they met with Principal J.B. Royer to share details about the program, and he gave them permission to go forward with it.
“Emma really took off with it,” VanLiew said. “It’s a pretty good undertaking.”
The Google form allowed staff members to submit their weekly minutes to Emma, and she kept each person’s running total on a spreadsheet and shared that information with them.
Some staff members chose to walk around the hallways before or after school. Some did group workouts in the staff fitness room. Some chose to work out on their own.
As an incentive, Emma picked a random number on the spreadsheet each week and presented that person with a gift card or another prize.
Emma said she benefited from helping with the initiative.
“I think it’s good for me just because kids can get anxious or shy about leading stuff, but this is just good experience to not only organize stuff but communicate with people sending out emails,” she said.
She thought it was a good experience for the staff members, too.
“It’s good for them to get exercise and be healthy, and it sets a better example for the students, too, if they notice that the teachers are walking or talking about that,” she said. “When they had their dress-down day, which was what they got for reaching their minutes, and the students ask why, then they explain it to them.”
Hauersperger, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, said being an example for the students was one of the goals.
“I think we would all agree we’re teaching more than our content. We’re teaching the whole child,” she said.
As part of her exercising, Hauersperger said she and another teacher planked for two minutes and did 20 pushups in the morning.
“I just mentioned it in class one day, and one of my students said, ‘Is that why you’re so ripped?'” Hauersperger said, smiling. “It’s wonderful.”
The staff members also liked walking together, either before or after school. Sometimes, they did both times of day.
It gave them time to talk about their day and also things outside of school, such as their families or what they have done or accomplished.
“The underlying thing is we just wanted to build some camaraderie,” VanLiew said. “That was another goal of ours, not just to get people active but just interacting. I know Kim (Dringenburg), but now that we walk and stuff, I know her a lot better, and her daughter works with my son. … I really like how it has helped with that camaraderie.”
Staff members may spend all day in a classroom and not get time to interact with other staff members unless it’s before or after school.
“Teaching really is kind of an isolated field,” Hauersperger said. “You’re in your room, and unless you’re intentional about getting out, you do kind of find yourself isolated, and this (wellness program) does help. It’s a good way to just share. We don’t just vent. We talk about our families, and we’ve gotten to know each other better.”
For many of them, the wellness group is a stress relief.
“I like that it’s on my schedule now,” Hauersperger said. “Janet is very good about this morning saying, ‘Are you walking this evening?’ It’s very good to look forward to. It’s a good way to end the day.”
VanLiew said all along, it was stressed the program was not a competition.
“We didn’t want to do anything threatening, so it is definitely not a weight-loss thing. We thought that would just scare people away,” she said. “What we decided to do, let’s just accumulate minutes as a team so we’re just one team.”
Audra Lorey, an eighth-grade special education teacher, said she liked that approach.
“Janet would come past my room because it’s down from mine and say, ‘Hey, are you headed to work out?'” Lorey said. “It kind of holds you a little bit more accountable because people are asking you, ‘Hey, are you coming today?’ but not in a threatening way.”
Dringenburg, who works in the school library, said she has lost 20 pounds through a combination of the wellness program and dieting.
Hearing accomplishments like that along the way has motivated the staff members.
“We’re all supportive. We’re like, ‘That’s great,'” Lorey said.
“I think it has definitely helped morale,” VanLiew said.
Even though the program recently ended, several of the staff members have expressed interest in continuing to exercise together.
“We may continue it, especially if Emma wants to,” VanLiew said. “I like walking outside, but it has been so nice to have this (inside the school) and be able to do this in the winter.”
Emma encourages other students to lead or join programs so they also can build their leadership skills and experience.
“It’s definitely something good you should do, and you don’t have to start it,” she said. “There are things you can look into. Don’t be afraid to ask somebody.”