Kingsland staff members braved the cold weather on Saturday to participate in the Lace Up Against Breast Cancer run in Rochester. Races included a 5k, half marathon and a two-mile indoor walk all to help raise awareness for breast cancer with all proceeds going towards Mayo Clinic's breast cancer research. Funding for staff's registration was part of the district's staff wellness program.
Kingsland staff members braved the cold weather on Saturday to participate in the Lace Up Against Breast Cancer run in Rochester. Races included a 5k, half marathon and a two-mile indoor walk all to help raise awareness for breast cancer with all proceeds going towards Mayo Clinic's breast cancer research. Funding for staff's registration was part of the district's staff wellness program.
This may be Amber Uhlenhake's first year as Kingsland's wellness coordinator, but she is excited to whip the staff into shape.

The idea of the wellness program being established at the local school is to motivate staff to live healthy lifestyles and help the individuals reach their own wellness goals.

As Kingsland's head cross-country coach and assistant track coach, Uhlenhake knows how to motivate but having the extra funding to sponsor fitness-related contests and to purchase prizes certainly helps.

"Through the SSC (Southeast Service Cooperative) in Rochester, we've been quite fortunate to get some great funding this year, above and beyond the normal. Aside from sending out occasional email health newsletters, I've used the funding to hold a lot of health and wellness contests."

Calling this a unique year with SSC being able to distribute more funds to applicants, Uhlenhake found that no ideas were out of reach.

To kick off the school year, Kingsland held a vendor fair, which included a healthy lunch prepared in house for the staff. Representatives from various local businesses presented information and services, including local massage therapists who gave the lucky staffers massages to start the new school year off right.

In October, the school held a flu shot clinic for the public and thanks to the grant funds, 20 staff members who either weren't covered under insurance or were unable to afford it, received the shot free of charge.

"It was a great proactive measure to benefit the employee, cut down on sick days and protect the students," Uhlenhake said of the advantages of the program.

As November drew near so did a new challenge; this time it was a staff calendar photo contest in which staff members were asked to show off their photography prowess.

Students were asked to select the top monthly winners, who were rewarded with Subway gift cards and, at the end, the photos were compiled to make a calendar for all the staff to enjoy.

Wondering what photography has to do with wellness?

Uhlenhake explained, "Wellness is just as much mental as it is physical, so having staff partake in a relaxing, pleasing hobby was part of the challenge goal."

Next, the staff found themselves playing bingo...but with a healthy twist.

The first 30 participants to fill out the necessary four rows on the bingo card won a Fitbit health-tracking device. Apparently, the competition was fierce as everyone was vying for the devices!

Along with the funding, Kingsland was able to work with neighboring school districts to get a better rate for the prizes, so in the end everyone was triumphant.

Fitness devices are playing an important role in the current SSC Walking Challenge, too. Staff members are recording each of their steps using pedometers. At the end of each week they submit their totals in hopes they are the week's highest steppers.

To add a little extra incentive, the staff is not just competing against each other, but also several other local districts in order to win the challenge trophy.

The wellness program isn't all fun and games, though. It's food and treats, too!

Uhlenhake was able to promote healthy snacking during the holiday season by purchasing FFA fruit from ag students to stock the lounges.

It was such a hit that she hopes to have one more staff lounge treat day with sub sandwiches to cap off a great school year.

This month, several staff members, including Uhlenhake, will brave the bitter Minnesota winter to run in the Lace Up Against Breast Cancer 5K and half marathon.

As brave as they are, she admits most participants are planning on running the shorter 5K event and, really, who can blame them!

Though the wellness program is primarily for the staff, Uhlenhake says the students are aware of the activities.

"We have not included students, as so many are active in sports and have a busy, scheduled life of their own, but they do notice our activity," she said. "They see staff getting in extra steps and wearing pedometers and they were helpful judges in the calendar contest. I think the biggest part of this is having the adults in their lives modeling healthy behavior. That's the best we can do for the students."

It is obvious Uhlenhake is a great fit for this program, as fitness is a vital element of her personal life.

Even though she knows the funding will probably be back to its normal amount next year, she is prepared to meet the challenge head on.

"It's been a great year and I hope to continue to motivate staff to make healthy choices and work towards their individual wellness goals," she concluded. "It's not all hard work and no fun. Wellness is a well-rounded approach to make life more enjoyable and I hope that's what the staff takes home at the end of the day!"