Team Inspire!
Team Inspire!

By Tina Dirmann

staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
Reading, writing arithmetic… All important lessons for the students of Calcasieu Parish.

But educators there say it’s not enough, adding running and race walking to their agenda for students. And they aren’t just talking the talk.Their walking it, too… Actually, running it.
Last weekend, Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana‘s grant sponsored Dare to be Healthy program helped host the first 5K run/walk for Calcasieu Parish educators, administrators and their relatives. On Saturday, nearly 1200 runners and walkers gathered at the Lake Charles Civic Center to complete a 3.2 mile course. Some were seasoned runners. Many were beginners, fighting the obesity fight and taking their first steps toward change.

“The most important part is proving that our educators can lead by example,” said Skylar Giardina, risk manager and wellness program manager for the Calcasieu Parish School System. Giardina helped implement a series of new wellness programs to motivate educators and inspire students.

“We want to be examples to the children we are leading,” Giardina said.

Wellness Warriors, for example, have been designated throughout the school system. These special teachers and administrators lead fitness groups within their work place, organizing physical activities (like running/walking clubs) and distributing nutritional information to peers. And these “Warriors” weren’t just picked for the role. They had to apply for it. They had to want it.

Like Prien Lake Elementary school teacher Paula Bruchhaus, who launched a running club and is known to drive kids to 5Ks in surrounding communities – and run with them. Think that’s impressive?

Superintendent Wayne Savoy and CPSB Wellness Program Leader Skylar Giardina stand with a few “Wellness Warriors”!
Superintendent Wayne Savoy and CPSB Wellness Program Leader Skylar Giardina stand with a few “Wellness Warriors”!

“She had some students who wanted to run a half marathon,” said Giardina, adding that she not only helped them train — she also ran the 13.1 mile course with them.
Among those crossing the “From the Classroom to a 5K” finish line on Saturday was Monica Benoit, a Wellness Warrior at W.T. Henning Elementary. Benoit took on her own health battle 2 years ago — and has dropped 132 pounds to date.

“And I’m still going,” Benoit said.

Now, she’s using her lessons to motivate her peers and her students. She helped organize “Team Inspire,” which began training for Saturday’s run/walk back in July. Benoit explains, “We have a group that runs each week and works out together. We support and encourage each other… We had 18 sign-up for the 5k today.”

Including Leah Brame, a third grade teacher who joined Monica’s group over the summer. “I just started training for this run in July, with the help of Monica and our group,” Brame said. “I really just want to lead a healthier lifestyle and share my successes with the students.”

The turnout for Saturday’s event was such a success, it even wowed Calcasieu Board Superintendent Wayne Savoy.

“It is inspiring,” Savoy said of the throngs of employees and family members who turned up on a chilly Saturday morning to work up a sweat. “They have been so receptive of the Employee Wellness Program and activities developed by Skylar and her team. And this is just the beginning. I’m so proud to see so many making these healthy changes and choosing to lead more active lifestyles.”

Of course, finishing the 5K wasn’t just all about the glory. Top runners got gift certificates to area running stores, Subway, pedometers… And there’s a treat in store for the campus with the highest percentage of staff participants — the school board will cook the entire campus a healthy breakfast.

Next step? Developing a 5K for the parish’s 33,000 students, many of whom turned-out to cheer their favorite educators.

“That was a big question we got from our kids,” Giardina said. “They really wanted to participate, which is great. But this one was just for our employees and their family members. So the students really want to know — when will we have a run specific for our kids?”

No answer to that one, yet. But we’ll get there. So get your running shoes ready, kids. CPSB staffers, with the help of Dare to Be Healthy sponsors, are coming for you! We’ll be watching to see if you can keep up.