Saturday, March 21, 2009

HealthCorps: Good for the student body and staff morale



For the last two years my school has been one of 44 schools across the United States to benefit from HealthCorps. HealthCorps is a program founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz with the goal of "educating the student body". HealthCorps trains and places recent college graduates interested in public health issues in schools. From there HealthCorps coordinators plan activities for teens related to making healthy food and lifestyle choices. It is expected that an organization with a vision like that of HealthCorps would educate teens when placed in a high school, the real surprise was how staff morale at my school has improved.

In November, our HealthCorps coordinator announced a walking challenge. She gave pedometers to any teachers interested in participating and a goal: 10,000 steps a day. The contest would last three weeks, with participants checking in with our HealthCorps coordinator every Monday. There would be a prize for the person with the most steps each week after weeks one and two and a grand prize for the person with the most steps for the entire three week period. Although we had a previous HealthCorps coordinator the year before, the walking challenge had not been well publicized and few teachers participated. Word on the street (or in the hallways rather) was that the grand prize had been a video IPOD, a pretty big deal. The coordinator told us this year's grand prize would be even grander, but wasn't giving up any hints.

Week one came in like a bull, rows of desks were widened to allow for pacing the entire 42 minute period. People suddenly slipped neatly back into their gym routines, and all of the sudden instead of "Hello" or "Good Morning" we were making eye contact with each other's belt loops and greeting each other with "How many steps do you have?" We all had our competition sized up and had an idea of where we stood, or so we thought. The following Monday we all checked in, the totals of the week were tallied, the winner announced. The winner had what seemed like an insanely high number of steps. The contest had officially started, and many of us felt like we were already a week behind. During week 2 the stakes were high, many of the people taking steps on the lighter side during week 1 announced they were still going to count steps, but for themselves and not competitively. The most important thing to come out of week two were that alliances were formed. What...alliances? Had our school suddenly become a competitive reality t.v. show? Not quite. The coolest thing that came out of the competition were the friendships. The school staff was suddenly united with a common goal and decided to work together to achieve it: people started walking together. People would take lunch time walks around the building together, stopping in to show off their extra steps to colleagues confined by the walls of their classrooms. Teachers who had two common preps in a row took longer walks, walking to a park a few blocks away, doing some laps, then taking the long way back along the river. People were out, people were moving, and people were doing it together. Well, most people.

The three week contest ending up finishing after two weeks. It's not that we couldn't walk for another week, some of us were overdoing it. While there were people who were walking home from the subway instead of taking the bus, walking around the building with a new friend instead of grading or surfing the net during a free period there were those of us who were jogging in place while teaching our lessons, skipping lunch to walk up and down the stairs, and leaving work each day to spend three hours at the gym. Colleagues started to have arguments at home with their spouses and children, "You are always walking!" Our HealthCorps coordinator made the tough call to end the competition after two weeks. Even though the competition was not 100% successful, the benefits of our two weeks of walking have not disappeared in the hallways at school. People have a new found interest in fitness and most importantly an interest the people who walk the halls with them.