By Kylie Blanchard
Photography: Rachel Neva Photo

What began as an idea to foster relationships and promote health and wellness among the staff at one elementary school blossomed into a journey of comradery and growth between participants at Bismarck’s Miller Elementary School (Miller) and Proximal 50 Life Center (P50).

“It started out with trying to find a way to help our staff connect,” Kelly Suchy, third grade teacher at Miller and member of the school’s engagement committee, says. “One way we did this was by starting an exercise group once a week. With that idea in mind, we decided to create a wellness experience that looked at different parts of a healthy lifestyle.”

Kelly decided to reach out to the experts for additional guidance.

“We wanted to give the program some legitimacy,” she says. “We reached out to Katie Kost and Tana Trotter from P50, and they were filled with ideas.” Katie says hearing the school’s plan for a wellness program inspired the life center’s staff.

“Initially, Kelly was looking for exercise equipment, but after listening to her explain why they wanted to do a wellness program, we quickly realized we had so much more we could offer.

“Wellness is much more than just exercise, and for true change and total health you need to look at nutrition, stress, and sleep,” Katie continues.

“We are passionate about showing people that healthy doesn’t have to involve strict diets, crazy workouts, or expensive supplements and products.”

Thirty-six Miller staff members signed up for the program, with a $10 buy-in going toward weekly and grand prizes.

“It says a lot when half your staff wants to take the time to better their health,” Kelly notes.

The life center provided a pre-assessment for each participant, and staff members Jamison Gray and Lex Hubbard led group fitness classes at the school and the facility’s downtown location. “They opened their doors to us in a big way,” Kelly says.

Participants were also given access to Reset30, the center’s new online program.

“It is so cool to have this knowledge at our fingertips,” Kelly adds. “Our Reset 30 education talked about looking forward and making goals that are realistic and measurable. It’s about a growth mindset, which is perfect because that is what we try to emphasize with our students.”

Many additional activities rounded out the Miller wellness program.

“We have one weekly workout after school, a walking group on Wednesday morning, and we have attended Pulse classes at P50,” Kelly says. “We also have six weeks of challenges set up with three challenges each week. Two remain the same: seven to nine hours of sleep a night and 30 minutes of activity three times a week. One goal changes each week. Each time you complete a challenge, you get your name in a drawing for a weekly prize.”

Participants can also earn a continuing education credit through Bismarck Public Schools and the University of Mary.

“There is a lot of our own time going into this for the online education piece and sharing our learning with our students and staff members,” Kelly says.

Andrea Carson, second grade teacher at Miller, says her favorite part of the program is the comradery between the participants and trainers.

“It’s great to see people working out, smiling, laughing, and having fun. We can lean on each other for support and encourage each other.”

Andrea says she decided to participate in the wellness program to connect with her colleagues.

“One of my favorite activities is Wednesday mornings. We ‘mall walk’ Miller for 45 minutes before school. It’s a fun way to start the day and to socialize with teachers you won’t get to see that day.

“This whole process has really strengthened Miller as a school,” Andrea continues. “It’s a common thread people share.”

“Simply put, healthy employees are happy employees,” Katie says of the importance of workplace wellness. “They are more engaged in their work, they miss less work due to illness, they are more efficient and better at what they do. But doing it [working out] together as a staff also builds stronger teams.”

Kelly says there is already talk of continuing the program’s activities beyond its six-week timeline.

“People want to walk together in the mornings. We enjoy working out together after school. It helps us see each other outside of our role as teachers,” she notes. “It would be really fun to make this a yearly tradition to remind each other to take care of our needs and to practice wellness.”