The voice comes over the loudspeaker, “So let’s ditch the chips, all go bananas, and remember to commit to be fit!”
It’s lessons like this one that helped make Lisa Mazur Irving Middle School’s October Teacher of the Month. Mazur’s intentional teaching is also cultivating a culture of nutrition and fitness awareness throughout the central San Antonio school—from the young students to faculty and staff, and even parents and families.
Every Monday, Mazur uses her time slot during the morning announcements to share a weekly health tip, be it a catchy slogan on choosing the right foods to eat or recommendations on fun and easy ways to burn a couple of extra calories. Though acceptance from students was not immediate, Mazur’s persistence and passion for spreading the word has begun to pay off.
“Students at first were a bit reluctant, but [they] are now buying into it and we are seeing results,” Mazur said. “It’s not perfect, but they are thinking more about it. They do make a point to let me know they are eating healthier.”
Mazur, who teaches in San Antonio but resides in Austin, has not stopped at simply talking about health. With the full support of Irving’s principal, Michael Jordan, Mazur has also started a running group, which allows students to gain entry into 50-, 75-, and 100-mile clubs and rewards students with the highest mileage at the end of the year. She has created a Facebook page, “Keep Irving Fit,” that includes her weekly healthy tips, as well as motivational posts and congratulations on accomplishments and achievements of Irving students and staff. The school is now selling shirts with the words “Keep Irving Fit” splashed across the front in school colors, a regular reminder to all about the importance of the campaign, and many students wear these shirts on school spirit days.
Perhaps more important than the change in mindset on school property, it would seem that Mazur is making headway into the students’ homes, where parents do the grocery shopping and have the most influence on nutrition. “Parents are giving questions to their kids to ask me about health tips, so [our program] is reaching out to not only the students but their families as well,” she said. The significance of the involvement at home simply cannot be overstated, as any teacher or educator will be the first to tell you.
The “Keep Irving Fit” campaign has also helped to cement a change in Mazur’s lifestyle. After playing basketball and soccer at Texas Lutheran College on a scholarship, she has remained active throughout her adult life, running three miles at a time on a semi-regular basis. In 2012, Mazur won the masters division at the Bastrop Burning Pine 10K, which sparked a desire to see what she could do with more focused training. Since then, Mazur has changed her diet, lifestyle, and training habits, and the results have been positive. She finished third in her age group for the AFM Distance Challenge, second among females at the Hill Country Half Marathon, and on November 17, she finished her first marathon in San Antonio in an impressive 4:02 (despite very warm conditions) to claim second in her age group.
Mazur's decision to share her discovery and new outlook with her school, though, came one morning at the beginning of this school year. Mazur noticed that the trash cans around the school were littered almost entirely with empty chip bags.
“I wanted to start promoting a healthy lifestyle in the kids I teach and coach,” she explained. “I see a health care crisis, and I firmly believe we can make changes if we start teaching our kids to make healthy choices when they are young and not when it’s too late, as when they are older.”
Nowadays, the chip bags are fewer, and the students who still choose junk food over a banana are at least aware of their decisions. “I personally see students healthier and even hiding their junk as they walk by, if they have it,” Mazur said. “Teachers and administrators, when they see me, will say they have started eating healthier and being more active. We see less chips, soda, and junk food altogether in the school.
“It has made my job more fulfilling, knowing the kids are starting to learn good habits.”
Even Coach Mazur, as the kids call her, is subject to the awareness now surging through the halls of Irving. “They even hold me accountable when they see me reach for the breakfast taco and not the banana,” she said with a laugh.
“Keep Irving Fit” has been such a spontaneous, organic effort that Mazur and her coworkers don't really have a plan for moving forward, other than to continue to raise awareness and keep encouraging better habits among everybody associated with the school. She hopes to continue to build on the success they have already enjoyed, to continue to add programs and incentives to teach students to take control of their own well-being, and to organize an annual walk/run within the community in order to involve as many people as possible.
“The more we teach them now, the more likely they are to continue with good habits through adulthood,” Mazur said. “I want them to learn that exercise and nutrition are choices they have to make daily and how much they affect their future.”