Success Story

New Ulm Public Schools

Maintaining an ongoing commitment to employee wellness

District wellness committee members (left to right) Anita Longtin, Amy Haala, Paula Wenninger and Linda Beck on a walking meeting; not pictured: Tammy Yackley.

After school on a clear, crisp day in late October, more than 100 staff members from New Ulm School District #88 gathered at Jefferson Elementary to walk to the other end of town and back again. The three-and-a-half mile walk, called Take A Hike, is just one of the monthly wellness events that take place each year.

“At the Take A Hike event, staff members could choose to walk, jog, run, push their children in strollers, walk their dogs, however they wanted to finish the course,” said Anita Longtin, New Ulm School District wellness coordinator and physical education/health instructor. “It takes most people anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. We had more staff who chose to run this year than in past years, which was encouraging.”

All of the 350 to 400 full- and part-time New Ulm district school staff members are invited to participate in heart-healthy activities organized by Longtin, who has been the wellness coordinator for 20 years. “We receive wellness dollars from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield/South Central Coop that help us reward wellness activity participants each year with T-shirts, water bottles, umbrellas, bags, blankets, coolers, healthful snacks and even a discounted price on a state park sticker so they have somewhere to go to hike trails, swim or cross-country ski,” continued Longtin. “We don’t require the staff to train for any of our events. What’s important is that they come and participate.”

The wellness activities change from year to year, but the ultimate goal remains the same — helping staff live healthier lives. This past academic year started with a Great Grillout event in September when staff members and their families were invited to a picnic that included heart-healthy food choices.

Other events throughout the years have included the fall Take A Hike event, HONU’s Holiday Trimmings program, and a Twelve Days of Fitness activity in December. Some years, Longtin and her staff kick off the new year with a Passport to Wellness Program that supports sticking to new year’s wellness resolutions. Employees have also celebrated American Heart Month in February by participating in the district’s Random Acts of Kindness activity, where they are encouraged to follow a heart-healthy calendar that includes daily tips and ideas to incorporate nutrition, exercise and relaxation into their lives.

In March and April over the years, staff have participated in a six-week Shape-Up Challenge and a Wellness Bowling activity that features exercise, food and door prizes. A favorite spring event is the Poker Walk, which involves moving from station to station to collect cards in hopes of getting the best poker card hand, or the WELLO activity where staff work to complete wellness activities on a BINGO-type card to win prizes. Longtin and her staff began their partnership with HONU in 2009 when they participated in the employee heart health screenings and have continued to use resources to support district staff activities.

“Seeing the heart health screening numbers helped participants focus on areas in their overall wellness where they have opportunities to make improvements,” said Longtin. “District-sponsored, after-school wellness classes, posters, emails and the HONU newsletter and website resources all help support the staff in their wellness goals. There’s always more that can be done, but I am proud of our staff’s ongoing commitment to wellness and encouraged by the progress they continue to make.”