Prien Lake Elementary School Financial Secretary Paige LaRocca leads a Zumba class for staffers on campus every Thursday afternoon.
Prien Lake Elementary School Financial Secretary Paige LaRocca leads a Zumba class for staffers on campus every Thursday afternoon.

By Tina Dirmann

staff writer for BCBS of Louisiana Foundation

Holiday time again… Around most office break rooms, you know what that means — holiday treats! Oh, the sugar cookies and dark fudge and fruit cakes and ooey-gooey brownies… No wonder we all suffer set backs this time of year in the battle of the bulge.

But not the teachers of Prien Lake Elementary School in Lake Charles, where staffers push aside desks and backpacks to make room for cardio workouts. That’s right, every Thursday, in fact, just after the final school bell rings, a collection of teachers and office staffers slip into workout gear and gather for a 40 minute Zumba class. Scurrying into the empty gym, or sometimes a vacant classroom will do,  teachers toss a dollar into a collection pile.

“That’s how much I charge for the class,” said Paige LaRocca, the school’s financial secretary, and certified Zumba instructor,  who also leads the weekly workout session. “Everyone said they wouldn’t let me do the class for free, so I said, ‘Fine, I’ll charge one dollar a class!’”

I was lucky enough to accept an invitation to join the workout earlier this month. And let me tell ya, though not in a traditional fitness center, the class was every bit a genuine  workout. There were twists and turns and squats and lunges and stretches — then more twists and turns and so on…

“You see this shirt,” special education teacher Jacqueline Baca said to me, grabbing her shirt’s edge and pulling at the excess, “it’s a medium and it used to be tight! We notice the difference in each other, too. We see each other day to day and we notice the transformation. We’ve all lost not just weight, but inches.”

Zumba 2The class is part of an overall push from administrators with the Calcasieu Parish School System, working in conjunction with the Challenge for a Healthier Louisianagrant supported wellness initiative Dare to be Healthy, to get school employees in shape! Because, as the teachers reminded me over and over, what better way to teach students about health and wellness than by example.

As the class unfolded, students popped in and out of our make-shift workout room (aka classroom), sometimes waving to a favorite teacher in mid-workout.

The Zumba Class!
The Zumba Class!

“Do you ever feel a little awkward, you know, with the kids watching you dance and workout,” I ask.

“Not at all,” said P.E. teacher Paula Bruchhaus, who leads many of the campus’ fitness challenges — including an ongoing Biggest Loser contest among the teachers (the first winner to be announced just before the school’s winter break).

In fact, they all said that working out around the students is, well, kind of the point. So students see teachers aren’t simply blathering on about eating right and exercising… They actually embrace those lessons personally. With that in mind, every Thursday becomes a health lesson in action.

Backpacks“I do it every week,” said pre-K teacher Amelia Donaldson, noting it’s so convenient, it’s hard to find a good excuse not to come to the 30-minute gathering. “I come here right after class, and we’re all done working out by 4 pm.”

Office secretary Brenda Greathouse even brings her 6-year-old granddaughter now and then. I was lucky enough to catch her Zumba moves during this particular session. I don’t know if she was the best dancer in the group, but she was the cutest!

The Zumba sessions have become so popular, teachers and staffers are taking Zumba classes outside of school, too — at a fitness center nearby, as often as three times a week.

“I go to every class,” Donaldson said, “On and off campus. I really love it.”

I loved it, too! Though, my thighs were a touch sore the next day… Must have been all those squats we did during a rendition of Pour Some Sugar On Me or some such 80s tune (the teachers seem to prefer that to the traditional Latin-inspired Zumba songs).  But no complaints here. I had a great time. Thanks for the the invite, Teach! I’ll Zumba with you ladies any time…