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Larimore school’s wellness program proves popular with teachers and students

Jen Fuglesten (left) and Kirby Newhouse walk the halls of Larimore Elementary School Tuesday noon as part of the school's wellness program launched earlier this month by Newhouse. A component of the program is a virtual distance challenge that awards teachers 25 miles towards a distance of 2113 miles (from Larimore to Miami) for each one- half hour of exercise.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD1 / 2
Kirby Newhouse (left) and Jen Fuglesten walk past a poster showing the progress in the school's virtual distance challenge to walk from Larimore to Miami in just 14 weeks.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD2 / 2

LARIMORE, N.D. — Teachers at Larimore Elementary School are giving a new wellness program at their school high marks.

The program, launched earlier this month by Kirby Newhouse, speech and language pathologist at the school, is designed to encourage teachers to develop healthy eating and exercise habits.

In October, Newhouse turned 29 and, with what she referred to as the “big 3-0” looming, she vowed she would “get healthier,” she said. The idea for the workplace wellness program came from a friend who encouraged her to involve co-workers in her commitment to wellness.

“I think that has always been her thing, to have accountability to someone,” Newhouse said. After the recent holiday season, which was fraught with temptations to eat calorie-rich foods, Newhouse decided it was time to take action and get back on the road to physical fitness and organize the wellness program.

“I figured if I needed it, other people needed it, too,” she said. In January, Newhouse asked Leslie Wiegandt, the school principal, if she could start a program in their workplace. Wiegandt gave Newhouse her approval.

“I like the teamwork aspect,” Wiegandt said. “I think it’s good that people who work together have fun together.”

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction doesn’t keep track of whether schools have workplace wellness programs, but it is something it would support, said Roxie Dietrich, a DPI spokeswoman.


Newhouse researched on the Internet for ideas for the school’s wellness program and then came up with one that has several components, including a virtual distance challenge, personal challenge and “lunch and learn” sessions. Teachers participating in the virtual distance challenge are contributing $10, each.

During the 14-week challenge, school staff will “travel” from Larimore to Miami, a distance of 2,113 miles. Each one-half hour of exercise participants log, will represent 25 miles. The winner of virtual distance challenge will receive the money from the teachers’ contributions.

Newhouse is getting her exercise by running. She started training for a 10-K a few months ago and recently ran the Lost Dutchman, a 10-K in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Besides running, there are a variety of other exercise options, she said.

“Swimming, walking, lifting weights, anything that gets you moving, We’re hoping that when it gets warmer, we can do snow shoeing since the school just got snowshoes,” she said.


The program has the teacher’s lounge buzzing.

“Everybody is excited,” Newhouse said.

“I think the part I like about it, is that it is scheduled into my day,” said Jen Fuglesten, a pre-school teacher. It is easier to fit in exercise when she stays at the school and works out at the end of the day than it is if she goes home to do it, she said.

“It’s hard for me to get motivated with a 1-year-old and 2-year-old at home.”

Fuglesten walks the school halls for her exercise. She also plans to take part in group work-outs, such as Pilates, yoga and aerobics, with other teachers.

“The plan is to have two activities going at night,” she said.

The wellness program has been the impetus for sixth-grade teacher Brenda Beck to make lifestyle changes.

“I’m always aware that I need to be healthier and have better habits and be in better shape,” Beck said.

She is walking 30 minutes a day and striving to make better food choices, she said. “I’m trying to make small changes in my eating habits.”


Healthy eating is another aspect of the wellness program, Newhouse said. Each week a nutritious food is highlighted and she posts a recipe that uses the food as an ingredient on the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge.

“I pick up on something people are interested in,” she said.

In early February, for example, she chose kale as the food of the week after she overheard one of the teachers asking another if she had ever eaten it. Newhouse posted a picture of kale and information about its nutritional value, along with a recipe for kale chips on a staff lounge bulletin board that has information about the wellness program.

Nutrition also is a topic of the wellness program’s monthly “Lunch and Learn” programs. This spring North Dakota State University Extension educator Donna Berhnhardt, whose specialty is nutrition and food safety, will talk to the teachers about whole grains when she makes her annual visit to the school to present a program to the students.

Each week, teachers involved in the program also are participating in a challenge such as eating more fruits and vegetables, keeping a food diary and reducing the amount of soda they drink.

Other benefits

The program holds opportunities for students to become part of it, Weigandt and Newhouse said. For instance, students in the upper grades will have an opportunity to walk with their teachers outside when the weather warms in the spring, they said.

In the meantime, the students are fired up about their teachers’ involvement, giving Newhouse high fives in the hall when she’s walking the halls at noon.

Wiegandt shares her students’ enthusiasm and wrote about the program in her weekly newsletter to parents.

“We know that folks who make wise food choices and get regular exercise are healthier, happier and more energetic,” Wiegandt wrote. “Taking steps toward that goal as a group is great motivation.”

Beck said she believes that being able to share challenges and successes is key to her success in making lifestyle changes. Knowing that her co-workers are struggling to overcome some of the same obstacles she is gives her moral support, she said.

Meanwhile, being part of a group helps her keep her commitment to wellness, she said. “I don’t want to miss out on any of the fun.”

Reach Bailey at or (218)779-8093.