Schools get moving for health

Steve Kurtz, maintenance man at Woodbury Elementary School in Sandwich, recorded 1,544,822 steps in the recent six-week Walking Challenge among the six buildings in Sandwich School District 430.
Steve Kurtz, maintenance man at Woodbury Elementary School in Sandwich, recorded 1,544,822 steps in the recent six-week Walking Challenge among the six buildings in Sandwich School District 430.

SANDWICH – Even if he doesn’t mean to, Steve Kurtz sets an example for local students.

“Some kids will see me walking and ask if I know how to drive a car,” Kurtz, of Sandwich, said with a laugh.

Kurtz, a 58-year-old custodian at Woodbury Elementary School in Sandwich, won the District 430 Employee Wellness Walking Challenge by recording 1,544,822 steps in just six weeks. Kurtz, a former runner, said he walked about 3,000 steps in the morning before going to work, where he logs another 25,000 steps in a typical day. After dinner, he often walks again, usually doing errands around town on foot rather than driving.

“It’s easy and fun to do,” he said.

Kurtz, who has worked in the district for 27 years, said his goal was to reach 250,000 steps a week, which would surpass the 1.4 million steps he took last year.

Although this is the district’s third walking challenge, it’s the first time it has come under the new Wellness School Program established by the Community Wellness Department of KishHealth System for the Sandwich, Somonauk and Plano school districts.

Allison Bryan, senior communications and public relations specialist for KishHealth System, said the program began earlier this year in conjunction with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

According to its website, the Alliance was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation in response to the growing rate of child obesity. Itworks with schools, companies, community organizations, health care professionals and families “to transform the conditions and systems that lead to healthier kids.”

Stephanie Lough, public relations coordinator for the Active Schools Acceleration Project, said rates of obesity in children ages 2 to 5 have doubled since 1980. In that same time, obesity rates have quadrupled in 6- to 11-year-olds and tripled in 12- to 19-year-olds.

“The reason we started this project with the local schools its because the research is clear,” Bryan said. “When schools and districts have effective policies that support the health of their students and education there are benefits: reduced student and educator absenteeism, student concentration is better, student behavior is improved and children develop lifelong healthy behaviors.”

The Healthy Schools Program takes a comprehensive approach to helping schools create healthier environments.

“They’re working on projects like improving access to healthier foods, increasing physical activity opportunities throughout the day (not just in physical education class), enhancing or starting nutritional education, and establishing school employee wellness programs,” she said.

“We’re super excited,” KishHealth Community Wellness Manager Cindy Johnson said. “We felt the timing was right.”

The program, Johnson said, is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, making it free to the participating school districts.

During the employee walking challenge, preventive health educator Becky Frieders said the adult employees of each of the six buildings in Sandwich School District 430 recorded how many steps they took. Nine employees of the Prairie View Elementary won their building the traveling team trophy with an average of 535,000 steps per week.

The purpose of the challenge, Frieders said, was to get everyone, adults and students, involved in the new program.

Besides employee wellness, Frieders said the other areas to be addressed include policy, nutrition education, physical education, school meals and competitive foods vending. She said each school has a checklist to see what they currently offer and what they may need to work on.

“Every school district will be different,” she said.

Frieders said the Plano School District, for instance, doesn’t offer physical education every day because of scheduling conflicts, so other areas have to be explored.

One way schools can encourage students to eat healthier, Johnson said, is by making healthy foods more appealing.

“A can of green beans isn’t that attractive,” she said. “It’s how you present it to kids.”

The success of the program is in making small, incremental changes.

“It’s a gradual process,” Johnson said. “It’s not to change overnight.”

The cooperative agreement between KishHealth and the school district is for four years. If the program goes well, Johnson hopes it will spread to other districts.

“At the hospital, we are truly committed to the healthy habits of the whole community,” Johnson said. “It starts at the schools.”

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