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The City Journals

Bingham High’s Poulsen works with students to share heart healthy education

Feb 05, 2019 04:14PM ● By Julie Slama

Corner Canyon High’s Mindy Wilder and Taylorsville High’s Kevin Harwood came away with most improved and overall winner titles, respectively, in the teacher 2018 My Heart Challenge. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

It was more than a competition for Bingham High’s Pepper Poulsen.

Although Poulsen was trying to win the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute teacher 2018 My Heart Challenge, she also wanted to educate students to learn the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.

As the 100-day competition began, she wanted to introduce more fitness and healthy options at the school.

“I’d like to change the culture in our school, from adding more healthy snack options at faculty meetings to integrating the challenge with our HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) students and their competitions,” she said earlier.

What resulted was not that, but students taking ownership for it, as some students wrote and performed their own rap song about healthy lifestyles. Three students were able to present to 13 other teacher participants and community members at the December awards ceremony.

“It has changed me, my family and our Bingham family,” Poulsen said. “I now prep meals for the whole family. My husband has lost 50 pounds. I may still watch movies, but I’m on the treadmill getting in my steps as I do. I’ve added strength and weight training. My whole family is active and eating healthier. I’ve shared what I’ve learned with them as well as with students at school.”

While Poulsen didn’t win the challenge, she feels the positive change.

“I’m doing more and have more energy than before. It’s something I’ll be able to maintain,” she said.

That is the sentiment many teachers said, agreeing that they all were winners in improving their own health.

Through the program, all the teachers received individual coaching and counseling from heart experts at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, talking to exercise specialists, dietitians, counselors and cardiologists. They were introduced to various exercises, which they might not be familiar with from yoga to boxing, and participated in weekly health assessments.

Together, they exercised 46,194 minutes and lost 212 pounds. Their cholesterol levels decreased 14 percent while their triglycerides dropped 32 percent. Through an increase of 18 percent of aerobic fitness, their body fat went down 19 percent.

Other Jordan School District participants include Herriman High’s Dan McLay and Riverton High’s Robert Rooley.

The overall winner was Taylorsville High School English teacher Kevin Harwood, who used the book, “The Jungle,” as a platform to have class discussions about prepared and processed foods.

About 500 Taylorsville High students also listened to a Cornell University professor, who Harwood arranged to come to classes, and speak about the ethics of farming, protecting the forests and environment, and heart disease associated with a red meat diet.

Harwood decided to take part in the challenge to be a more active grandfather.

“For me, participating in the challenge was a wake-up call. It got me thinking about what I’m doing and how it takes time to develop healthy habits,” he said.

Before the contest, Harwood admits he developed poor habits after running the 1994 St. George marathon and would eat weekly at a Mexican restaurant and turn on Netflix instead of hitting a treadmill and eating fruits and vegetables.

“I learned valuable information that transformed my life,” he said, adding that his family also participated, include the family dog, Daisy, who took him on four-mile daily walks.

The most improved award went to Mindy Wilder, of Corner Canyon High in Draper, who also received $1,000 for her school, along with a sash and crown. During the 100 days, she lost 44 pounds.

Wilder not only got her physical education students and volleyball team to participate, but she also introduced yoga to nearby Crescent Elementary in Sandy in early November, getting six classes of third- and fourth-graders to become active.

“Everything I learned, I took back to my ninth-grade class, including nutrition and exercise logs,” Wilder said. “They made a lot of progress. The volleyball team was very engaged and preferred fruit and vegetables over snack foods. The elementary kids became more flexible as they learned something new. I learned little things that will make a lifetime change for me.”

Other teachers shared what they learned to their classes and schools. 

At Jordan High in Sandy, Nicole Manwaring, who biked to work, had her school participate in tracking steps as well as having the chef program at the school prepare a healthy meal in December. She even got the preschoolers to learn to exercise while learning their letters, said Principal Wendy Dau.

Murray High’s Keeko Georgelas worked with their school’s culinary arts students to hold a fundraiser dinner for heart research for Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, which could help pay living expenses for families of patients undergoing heart transplants.

“I hope it becomes an annual event,” he said. “This impacted my life as well as students and faculty at Murray.”

Kristina Kimble, of Alta High in Sandy, said it was easier knowing other teachers also were committed to the program.

“I can email or talk to any of these teachers and known that we will continue to be supportive of one another,” she said. “It’s not over. It’s a lifetime commitment. We all succeeded in becoming healthier so we all won.”