Originally created 10/13/03

Fayetteville high school teachers beat stress through workouts



FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- During his years as an administrator, Westover High School Principal John W. Smith has come to couple of conclusions.

First: Teaching is among the most stressful professions.

Second: If teachers miss school because they don't have a healthy lifestyle, those teachers and their students suffer.

Smith decided to address the stress and healthy lifestyle issues.

Along with Judy Roper, adviser for Health Occupation Students of America, Smith instituted an exercise program in which faculty members can work out on campus before, during and after school. The program includes daily walks, aerobics twice per week and shoulder massages.

"Our teachers have to be healthy," Smith said. "When you feel good, things go a lot better, and when teachers are healthy, things go better for the students.

"As educators, we seldom take the advice we give our students about living healthy. It's good for the camaraderie, and it's good for school unity."

The faculty and staff participating in the program have set goals. Their plan is to walk 6,000 miles - or roughly the distance from Fayetteville to California and back - by December, and then the distance from Fayetteville to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and back by the end of the year.

Participating faculty and staff members walk at least three miles a day, three times each week. Some walk more. Each Monday they weigh in and record the mileage they walked the previous week. Roper keeps track of the amount of weight loss and the miles walked.

"We are not concerned about what someone weighs," Smith said. "Some people lose more weight than others. Our goal is to decrease in size."

As an incentive, Health Occupation Students of America provided free salads for those who walked at least three miles. At the end of the school year Smith is planning to charter a bus and take all of the participants to Myrtle Beach for a day.

"The school can't help but prosper," Smith said. "We want to keep our teachers healthy. Substitutes are OK, but they can't do the regular job that teachers do, so we need to keep them healthy and in the classroom."

Before teachers started their exercise regime, Roper did some mini examinations on some of the faculty and staff members. She discovered a few had high blood pressure. Participating in the program helped bring their blood pressure down.

"Teaching is one of the high-stress professions," Roper said. "We are on the four-by-four schedule, and that produces a lot of stress itself. As a result of the program we are seeing some good things happen."

One of those good things is the chair massages, Roper said. The idea is to relieve stress and get teachers' minds off of school.

"It's amazing. We turn off the lights, and everyone has to be quiet," she said. "You are not allowed to talk about anything dealing with school."

Teacher Karen Darlington was on Weight Watchers and needed to incorporate an exercise program into her daily activities. Time, however, wasn't always on her side. When she went home in the evenings she often found herself rushed and trying to find time to work out. Being able to do it at school is convenient, she said.

"We are already here, and it's not much trouble to change clothes and come out and exercise," Darlington said. "It appeals to our competitive edge, too. It's just so exciting, and we feel so much better. Since I have been walking I am doing better."

Smith stresses that the exercise program is a school-wide effort because teachers have been able to incorporate it into their classroom instruction.

The math department measured the top floor of both the old and new wings of the building to determine how many laps it would take to reach a mile. It's seven times around the old wing and 12 times around the new. The social studies classes mapped out a route and are able to tell teachers where they are when they reach a certain number of miles.

"Not only are we preaching it and teaching it, but it helps with supervision," Smith said. "By being able to walk during their planning period, they can help make sure students are where they need to be."

And the program isn't just for faculty and staff, Smith said. He notices residents of nearby neighborhoods walking during various times of the day. He encourages them to come by the school and walk.

"We invite parents to come and walk with us," he said. "We would love to have them come into the building and take a walk."

Roper wants to take the exercise program a step further. She would like to set up a room where teachers can have some down time during the school day. The room, she said, would have recliners and soft music.

"It would be a place to just go and relax," she said.

If it's going to help teachers be at school and perform the jobs at the highest level, then Smith likes the idea.

"I just want to make Westover a place they want to come to in the morning," he said. "I want Westover to be a place teachers, students and parents want to be. If we can provide some of the things they need and can't get, it would make them want to be here."