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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on October 2nd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 30

Santa Maria-Bonita teachers get active to be healthy role models for their students


Staff members and outside participants from Alvin Elementary School get together on Saturday mornings for personal training workouts or group hiking adventures.

It’s no secret that exercise yields numerous benefits for the body, both on a mental and a physical level. But the advent of demanding and fast-paced careers makes finding time for exercise and healthy habits more difficult than it used to be.

However, studies are showing that healthy bodies are crucial for a healthy workplace. Another growing trend among the fitness and professional worlds is showing that working out in groups provides a network of support and motivation.

With this in mind, Project ACT, a local collaborative effort, is helping make positive changes in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD). Project ACT is using the workplace as a platform to help create healthy lifestyles among staffers and teachers. Funded by a grant through the Orfalea Foundation, the program is using local teachers as role models for establishing healthy habits.

Since the beginning of the school year, teachers and staffers throughout the district have committed to making healthy exercise to diet choices. Teachers are banding together to get healthy through group training sessions, hikes, and even a competition.

Seth Nickinson, workplace consultant and project lead for the Wellness Program, said a survey was conducted at the beginning of the school year to determine the level of health among staff.

“At least 53 people within SMBSD responded that they are interested in spreading the word and want to be healthier,” Nickinson said.

According to Nickinson, the program is being used at the county’s Public Health Department and Chumash Casino and Resort to promote workplace wellness across Santa Barbara County.

Margaret Ontiveros, the district’s human resources director and district facilitator for the program, said teachers began the year by setting healthy goals.

“We want to motivate district employees to make one or two goals that will improve health,” Ontiveros said. “Choose one thing you can stick with; if you write it down you’re more likely to be accountable to what you’ve written.”

Ontiveros, an avid runner, sends out a “wellness e-mail” to all staff every Wednesday sharing what teachers in the district have done.

For instance, the teachers at Fesler Junior High School and Rice Elementary School work out every Tuesday and Wednesday with a personal trainer. The folks at Ontiveros Elementary School have organized a day to “walk the levy” for exercise. Oakley Elementary School just kicked off its own “Biggest Loser” competition. Another school site was host to Zumba classes and invited parents to attend. Staffers and teachers across the district have also organized local weekend hikes and active outings.

“A lot of the employees were already active but the collegiality of the endeavor has really caught on,” Ontiveros said. “Above all else, people are enjoying spending time together.”

Every Tuesday at Rice Elementary School, SpeedSac personal trainer Monte Nash puts the teachers through an intense interval workout that relies on a simple concept: using your body to move you through space.

Nickinson said the program promotes making small lifestyle changes to develop good habits that will spread.

“We are trying to create a shift in culture and get people energized about exercising,” he said. “People at the schools are getting excited.”

Gayle Vyenielo, an intervention teacher at Rice Elementary School, said the social aspect makes her more accountable.

“When we work as a team, it makes you feel responsible to help the team. It’s a great motivator,” Vyenielo said.

Vyenielo, who said this program is helping her make exercise important again, believes that being healthy is crucial to the work environment.

“When you feel good, you’re happier,” she said. “When you’re a teacher, it’s important to have a good handle on your emotions and exercise helps with that.”

Leah Belmonte, an English teacher at Fesler Junior High, said she loves the idea behind this program.

“It has brought the staff together; we’re doing healthy things together,” Belmonte said. “We spend so much time here—work isn’t healthy if were not healthy.”

To maintain enthusiasm for the program, Ontiveros and Nickinson helped come up with the “Move Across America” challenge. According to Ontiveros, the district matched up the four junior highs with their elementary feeder schools to create four teams.

Using a map of the United States, the teams were challenged to log as much activity as possible. With each entry, the team moves farther across the country. The goal is to make it to New York and back as fast as they can. More activity equals more miles.

According to Nickinson, the participation in this event has been tremendous.

“There are over 300 unique individuals logging activity,” he said. “There is no limit as to what kind of activity people can do.”

Whether it’s walking, running, or logging time spent doing physical education with students, the teams have logged more than 3,000 miles each and are quickly making their way back across the country.

“Everyone is enjoying the competition and being positive,” Ontiveros said. “Teams can also earn points for including children.”

Shape up
You don’t need to be an educator to get in shape. Monte Nash, a personal trainer and creator of the SpeedSac program, can adapt his workouts to any skill level. The concept behind his workouts is to challenge your body as it moves through space. Those interested in training with Nash can contact him at (818) 822-9081. For more information on SpeedSac, visit

Perhaps one of the more important messages behind the Wellness Program initiative is the effect on local students.

“Kids learn healthy behaviors through modeling,” Nickinson said. “Educators have to exhibit healthy behaviors, plus it helps keep people on the job and productive.”

Nickinson said the other benefit of the “Move Across America” challenge is that bonus miles are earned with activity that involves friends or children because it helps spread health outside of schools.

For Ontiveros, the Wellness Program is allowing colleagues to learn from one another and role model a healthy workplace.

“As adults, we have control of what we eat, and children have some amount of choice in what they eat at school,” Ontiveros said. “If we can help children be more aware of the importance of fruits and veggies, they can begin to establish healthier habits that will carry them into adulthood.”

For Vyenielo, this program is a great way to address the obesity problem and overall health of students.

“We are in a perfect position to role model for kids and talk about what we as teachers do to stay healthy,” Vyenielo said.

Belmonte said students at Fesler have seen the teachers working out together in the park and it has helped create teachable moments.

“We talk about it with the students and are trying to spread a healthy message. We have to practice what we preach to the kids,” Belmonte said.

The program will run through November at which time another survey will be conducted to see the impact of the effort. Nickinson and the district are looking into ways to keep the motivation and healthy choices going.

“It is great to see so many people involved. People are paying attention,” Ontiveros said. “Fitness is related to happiness and well being.”


Staff Writer Kristina Sewell loves to exercise her mind and body. Contact her at

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