School Expands K-State’s Walk Kansas to Create Around-the-World-Challenge
LIBERAL, Kan. – Parents of some teens in one western Kansas community who are expecting their teen to ask to borrow the car, may be surprised to hear: “I think I’ll walk.”
The students attend Liberal High School, and this spring, are joining faculty and family members in making physical activity a priority, said Ladona Roddy, a registered nurse at the southwest Kansas school.
Why the push for physical fitness?
Our average high school enrollment is about 1,200. Of that, about 500 students are actively engaged in school athletic programs; about 700 lead more sedentary lives, she said.
In looking for wellness activities that could appeal to all students, Roddy was attracted to K-State Research and Extension’s Walk Kansas fitness challenge, and contacted Kathy Bloom, family and consumer sciences extension agent in Seward County. Bloom is the Walk Kansas county coordinator.
The two women brainstormed about how to encourage 14- to 18-year-olds to choose physical activity, and decided to try expanding Walk Kansas into the school.
Walk Kansas is in its 11th year and typically attracts 18,000 to 20,000 participants. It was
introduced as a walking program, in which teams of six logged miles equivalent to the 423-mile distance from Kansas’ east to west border. As it has grown, organizers have added flexibility in inviting participants to choose from a variety of activities, with 15 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity counting as one Walk Kansas mile.
Activities include running, swimming, dancing, biking, yoga, zumba, mowing the lawn, and more.
According to Roddy, the flexibility in the program makes it a good choice for participants who are currently less active or coping with physical limitations and special needs, and also adds an incentive for individuals to increase their own forms of activity.
Most who enroll in the program report health benefits such as increased energy; more restful sleep; sharper focus in -- and out -- of the classroom and at work, a greater ability to manage stress, and a more conscious effort to strive toward a healthy weight.
To encourage students and staff to enroll in the fitness challenge and become more active, health promoters used posters and activity announcements to push the initiative, and provided age-appropriate reading materials about nutrition, health, and physical activity during E-Time, a school period set aside for reading.
The initial plan, said Roddy, was to have 10 teams, but the school now has 20, with 72 students, 38 faculty and staff, and 10 family and community members.
With enrollment exceeding expectations, she figured that covering the 423-mile distance from the state’s east-to-west borders could be accomplished quickly, and offered a greater challenge. At the end of the eight-week program, Liberal High School team participants will compile their total miles and compare their accomplishment to the 19,592-mile distance around the world at the 38th parallel, in line with Liberal.
Engaging students, faculty and others in the community gives them the opportunity to improve their quality of life and health – and to have fun doing it, Roddy said.
In hosting a March 19 Walk Kansas kick-off, Roddy and Bloom conducted a survey about physical activity and eating habits, and encouraged those who attended to time themselves walking on a quarter-mile track. They plan to administer the same survey at the end of the eight-week program to measure progress – and further encourage participants.
“The team concept motivates participation and encourages team members to try new activities,” said Roddy, who noted: “My wish for participants is that they will find activities they can enjoy throughout their lives.”
In managing the fitness challenge at this level, a coalition of community partners, called the “To Life Coalition,” sought wellness grants from Kansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Healthy Habits program and the United Way.
The Liberal High School’s adaptation of Walk Kansas, dubbed LHS Around the World, also received donations from the Southwestern Medical Center, Byron Bird and Associates (an accounting firm), Golden Plains Credit Union, Walgreens, and Brown’s Shoe Fit.