Wellness Tips

Longview ISD wellness program a life-changer for some employees | Local News

Braylon Session is feeling a lot better than he once did these days.

He’s lost 70 pounds. He’s sleeping better, snoring less and has more energy.

“I get sick less… I bounce back from being sick a lot faster,” said the Longview High School teacher, who works in the Longview ISD Meat Science Building.

Session is one of 761 district employees — that’s 56% of district employees —who enrolled in the district’s new Longview Health and Wellness program, which launched in 2022. The program uses an app, Virgin Pulse, and district incentives to encourage participation — including the possibility of earning two extra days off a year from the district. Participants earn points toward those rewards by tracking physical activity and healthy eating habits, and reading tips the app provides.

Session said the program has changed his life. He had started a gym membership at one point, but never went. Then, he received a notice about Longview ISD’s new program and the incentives it offers.

He had never been someone who worked out, he said.

“If you ask my students, I was a little butterball,” he said, and his students kept him supplied with his “kryptonite” — Reese’s Pieces. 

“It was a tough change,” he said, but he has changed his diet, stopped drinking soda and has only had a handful of Reese’s Pieces since he started the program eight months ago — compared to a package a day in the past. His girlfriend works for the district, too, and they’re able to old each other accountable and encourage each other through the app. His main form of exercise has been running or walking for an hour a day.

“It has helped a few of my co-workers that are participating in it and I appreciate the school district for doing it,” Session said.

The kind of positive changes Session described are what Dr. Wayne Guidry, LISD’s assistant superintendent of business finance, was looking for when he brought the program to district trustees to approve the days off as incentives. Guidry, who was a college athlete who now participates in Iron Man competitions, saw the program as a way to help educators remain educators.

Society and educators took a “beating” during the pandemic, he said.

He’s a former teacher, as is his wife, who is now a school counselor. She is participating as well.

“This is an incredibly difficult profession we’re in, and I’ve just seen in my life — staying fit has helped keep a balance. It’s helped keep me sane as an educator. I just see too often where education gets the best of our employees.” Guidry said. 

The number of educators leaving the profession, before and after the pandemic is “catastrophic,” he said, and the pandemic put that on “steroids.”

“I just really felt like this was something we could use as a district,” he said.

The program is open to all district employees, not just teachers. It came with a $40,000 pricetag, most of which was paid for through a COVID health grant, Guidry said.

“It’s blown away the expectations we had in terms of people participating and their engagement in the program. … I would never have foreseen the data we’re seeing through participation,” Guidry said. Of 761 participating employees, 76% are actively engaged, he said, which is better than the 32% the district had been told to anticipate. 

He said 280 employees have earned an additional day off work through the rewards they’ve earned in the program. Overall, district absences were up by 262 this past fall, but the program participants combined missed 334 fewer days than a year ago, Guidry said. 

He also noted a survey he conducted of participants: 78% said the program improved their state of mind; 84% said program participation has encouraged other people to become more active; and 64% said it assists in staff retention.

Now, he said the district hopes to expand the concepts of the program toward helping students get healthier.

“We’re just embarking on that,” he said, with some students participating in the Walk Across Texas program. Some participating teachers have said they’re also making efforts to get their students more active throughout the day, Guidry said.

Changes like that could have an impact on student achievement, Guidry said, saying it’s time to change the conversation about how to improve students’ academic performance. He said there’s so much research about how activity changes student achievement.

“Let’s try something different,” he said.

Amanda Vallery, a counselor at Hudson Pep Elementary School, was slow to join the program — she said she’s always enjoyed working out and didn’t need motivation to do that. 

However, she has enjoyed the accountability through her co-workers — they give each other “shout outs” on the app, and the incentives offered by the district for earning points. 

“It made me feel like they really do care about my well-being,” Vallery said. 

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