By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett
Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on April 31, 2013
As I enter the gym behind Sam’s Stadium, I am greeted by a brightly colored banner that reads “BISD Wellness is Hot Stuff!” and a friendly woman ushers me in and asks if I am here for the Zumba class, to use the weight room or for the employee basketball league? Families fill the gym with cheers and ladies arrive in workout clothes crossing the small street to what was formerly the cafeteria of Central Middle School. I follow them into the “cafeteria” where Latin music plays and I am warmly welcomed to “join the class” of over 40 women exercising together after a long day’s work.
“It really helps these teachers and school employees decompress after a stressful day with the kiddos!” explains Anisa Gonzalez, the peppy BISD Wellness Coordinator. Gonzalez, a former teacher and coach, has taken what was a quiet program and pepped it up in just one school year, increasing tenfold the number of BISD employees, family members, parents and students who drop in at the gym to work out with weights, participate in the volleyball and basketball leagues or attend the exercise classes including step aerobics, Zumba and boot camp. “It’s so important for our employees and their families to be healthy and active. Not only does it improve their performance at work, it can help reduce the high cost of health insurance for the district. Insuring our employees and their dependents is costly and there are so many conditions and diseases that can be prevented by regular exercise and physical activity. It also boosts morale and encourages teamwork among the employees.”
BISD parents and students are also welcome to participate in some of the programs and classes at the Wellness Center. According to Gonzalez “A lot of moms of BISD students come in the morning for the free Zumba, aerobics and boot camp classes. Then some of them come back after school with their kids. We have so many overweight children in our community, and this is a great way for parents to encourage their kids and be a good example to them as well. Research has shown that kids who are healthy do better in school. It is really to the advantage of the school district (BISD) and community for our families to stay active and healthy.”
Rosa Sanchez, the spouse of a BISD employee at Veteran’s High School, is an enthusiastic supporter of the program. “These classes have helped me become a healthier person, and stay off the couch! I am so much more able to manage my stress when I work out with these ladies. We are like family now, and I really just can’t wait to come to my class in the evening!”
Sanchez’ enthusiasm about the programs led her to gather the signatures of over 50 people who attend the exercise classes requesting that they be offered Friday evenings as well. The current budget and staffing only allow for Monday through Thursday evening classes. “This program does so much good and costs relatively little. I’ve talked with many BISD teachers and employees who are better managing their diabetes, blood pressure and stress because they participate in these programs. It is really so important that BISD offers this and I am very grateful!”
Gonzalez obviously enjoys her work coordinating the tournaments, organizing the schedules advertising and cheering on the participants. A bonus is hearing positive feedback from the employees and family members who take advantage of the free programs. “Just the other day I received a note from one of the ladies who was part of our employee basketball league. She had never played a sport before, but had a great time doing her best in a fun atmosphere. Her son played with her. Her husband cheered for her. She left a note in my office that read, ‘Thanks for the… very special moments. I never thought my son and I would ever get to play together on a team. It was priceless! Thanks for all you do!’”
This type of small investment in the health of employees, parents and students can have a huge lasting impact on both the quality and cost of education, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)
BISD Wellness programs at the CAB Gym are open to all BISD employees, their families (middle school aged and up) and all parents of BISD students. For more information call (956) 698-0194.