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Giant Steps

[Editor’s note: Señorita in the City is the pseudonym of a second-year teacher in a high school in Manhattan.]


For the past two years, my school has been one of 44 across the United States to benefit from HealthCorps. A program founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz (of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” fame) with the goal of “educating the student body,” HealthCorps trains recent college graduates interested in public health issues and places them in schools where they plan activities promoting healthy diet and lifestyle among teens. Since the focus is on students, it was a real surprise how much HealthCorps helped to improve the morale of the school staff.

In November our HealthCorps coordinator announced a walking challenge. She gave pedometers to any staff member interested in participating, along with a goal: 10,000 steps a day. The contest would last three weeks, with participants checking in with the coordinator every Monday. There would be a prize for the person with the most steps after each of the first two weeks, and a grand prize for the person with the most steps for the entire three-week period. We had had a HealthCorps coordinator the year before, but that year’s walking challenge had not been well-publicized and few teachers participated. Word on the street (or in the hallways) was that last year’s grand prize had been an iPod. The coordinator told us this year’s grand prize would be even grander, but wasn’t giving up any hints.

Week 1 came in like a lion: rows of desks were widened to allow for pacing the entire 42-minute period; people suddenly got back into their gym routines; and all of a sudden instead of “Hello” or “Good morning” we were eyeing each other’s pedometers and greeting each other with, “How many steps do you have?” The following Monday we all checked in and the week’s totals were tallied. The winner had what seemed like an impossibly high number of steps. The contest was in full swing and many of us felt like we were already a week behind.

During Week 2 the field narrowed. Many of those with low numbers for Week 1 announced they were still going to count steps, but for themselves and not for the contest. Among those who were still in it to win it, alliances formed. Alliances? Had our school suddenly become a competitive reality TV show? Not quite. Rather, the school staff had united behind a common goal and decided to work together to achieve it: staff members started walking together. Groups would take lunchtime walks around the building, stopping in to show off their extra steps to colleagues confined to their classrooms. Teachers who had two preps in a row took longer walks outside the building. People were out, people were moving, and people were doing it together.

The three-week contest ending up finishing after two weeks. It wasn’t that we couldn’t walk for another week — some of us were overdoing it. While there were staffers who were walking home from the subway instead of taking the bus or walking around the building with a new friend, there were some who were marching in place while teaching, skipping lunch to walk up and down the stairs, and hitting the gym for three hours after work. Our HealthCorps coordinator made the tough call to end the contest.

Though it didn’t go according to plan, the benefits of our two weeks of walking are still noticeable in the hallways. We gained a renewed interest in fitness and, more importantly, a stronger camaraderie with our colleagues.