Creating School Community Through Fitness

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During the hot days of late summer, Austin pulses with the excitement of a new school year. Bright yellow school buses punctuate regular traffic routes, and children flood back into classrooms sporting new school clothes and colorful backpacks. The natural rhythm of the next academic year creates a perfect opportunity for parents and teachers to infuse renewed enthusiasm into their fitness routines.

Through a growing wellness movement in Austin, more and more families are finding their school communities ripe with potential adult fitness opportunities. 

Fitness Professionals: 
Giving Back to Teachers

Fifth-grade teacher Jessie D’Andrea is passionate about her personal fitness routine, but last year, her exercise regimen suffered. A faithful participant during the summer months, her long school hours challenged her ability to attend group workouts once school started.

D’Andrea’s fitness plight was not lost on Molly Daniels, her coach at iGnite. “Teachers give their heart and souls to teaching and don’t do enough for themselves,” said Daniels. In a creative attempt to reach out to educators, Daniels’ fellow iGnite coaches brainstormed ways to support teachers in the community.  D’Andrea’s Round Rock Independent School District School, Caraway Elementary, seemed a logical place to begin.

With the principal’s endorsement, iGnite founder Neissa Springmann addressed the Caraway faculty with an inspirational message of wellness and self-care. “Knowing that our educators are the ultimate nurtures and caretakers, we’ve always hoped for the opportunity to provide them with the iGnite experience—to love on them the way they love on our children,” explained Springmann.

The Caraway faculty enthusiastically welcomed Daniels twice weekly after school. Now, D’Andrea can walk out her classroom door and exercise with colleagues. “We love to be coached after a long day of teaching,” she said. “Finally—someone is telling us what to do. We are so thankful to have someone leading us. When I go back to grading papers after the workout, I feel so refreshed.”

In a city resplendent with fitness opportunities, it’s fitting that the Austin Independent School District (AISD) is invested in the healthy habits of its employees. Through AISD’s wellness program, teachers and staff bring fitness to their campuses by drumming up interest among their colleagues.  

This past summer, fitness vendors from around Austin donated services to a large curriculum writers teachers’ conference held in town. Offerings included yoga/dynamic stretching, mid-afternoon meditation, and higher intensity activities, such as Zumba and boot camps. AISD wellness coordinator Ian Kahn said, “These programs really opened the teachers’ eyes to the value of exercise.” He received effusive feedback from participants: “Wow, this makes a huge difference in how I feel every day.” Kahn believes the momentum from this conference will inspire many teachers to request fitness classes at their own AISD campuses: “I have a suspicion that this program is going to take off this year.”

Larry Chauvin, coach for Young Guns Youth Fitness and a teacher at Casis Elementary, was a pioneer in bringing teacher fitness to his AISD campus. In 2008, shortly after catching the running bug, he decided to invite other teachers and parents to join him for running workouts after school. His group gradually evolved into a more comprehensive fitness program that includes cardio, circuit training, yoga, and Zumba classes. “It's great to have so many healthy and active adults in our students’ lives. When students see their teachers running the track after school, they see how important physical fitness and community is at all ages,” explained Chauvin. “We even got our new principal out to a Zumba class because that’s something she was interested in.”

Parent Fitness Groups: Facilitate Community and Friendship

Teachers aren’t the only ones benefiting from school-based fitness classes. Parents are flourishing as well.  At Veritas Academy, a private Christian school in Southwest Austin, the expansive school courtyard is filled after morning drop-offs with moms engaged in a boot-camp style workout called FitMoms. Lunging, jumping, skipping, and squatting, the women share parenting stories, offer support, and encourage one another. FitMoms has been a vital part of connecting women at the school for the past five years. Participant Janette Cantwell joined when she moved to Austin last year. “Being new to the school and new to Austin, FitMoms gave me the opportunity to really connect with other moms who share similar interests,” Cantwell explained. “Working out together facilitates friendships in a way that standing in the pick-up line can’t.” 

Just down the road in the Shady Hollow neighborhood, another workout group shares fellowship in the pre-dawn hours. This conditioning group grew organically; last year, Baranoff Elementary School mom and personal trainer Sarah Lear formally started the Shady Hollow Sweat Camp in the park area next to her house. “It’s so fun seeing people’s workout personalities come out. The bonds with other people are much stronger than they were before,” said Lear.  “I see them building friendships within the group, and they are still chatting when I leave.”

Weaving together the expertise of community fitness professionals with wellness-minded parents and teachers is a logical connection point in the microcosm of a school environment. These adults act as advocates for and models of fitness throughout the school community and can, in turn, influence the most important people that schools exist to serve—the kids. D’Andrea explained, “It’s fun that the students get to see us working out together—working hard and sweating—it motivates them.”


How to bring adult fitness classes to your school:

1. Engage a teacher, parent, PTA leader, or administrator in spearheading the efforts. 

2. Generate interest among the target audience (faculty, parents, or both), and request permission from the administration to start a group.

3. Invite a fitness professional to bring a workout to the school community.

4. If your child’s school is within AISD, check out the fitness vendors listed at austinisd.org/wellness/vendors. These  vendors have a standing relationship with AISD and can bring classes to the campus with approval from the administration. 

If you are a fitness vendor and want to serve local AISD schools:

1. Submit a Request for a Proposal (RFP) on the AISD wellness website 

2. If accepted, contact AISD’s Wellness Coordinator Ian Kahn and the interested campus or facility to bring your services directly to 
the staff.

3. Donate services to the district’s special events, such as the employee health fair in October.

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