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Fitting in Fitness

A new staff Fitness Center at Normont Elementary School – made possible through a Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools grant – helps increase physical activity and well-being.

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The advantages of regular physical activity are well-known, from reducing anxiety and risk of chronic disease, to improving weight loss and sleep quality. Finding the time to hit the gym or take a brisk walk, however, can be challenging, especially for school teachers and staff. Whether they are preparing lesson plans, addressing student behavior issues, or meeting with parents, squeezing a workout into an already tight schedule can be difficult. 

So, when Normont Elementary School in Harbor City, California, had the opportunity to improve wellness utilizing a Kaiser Permanente Action Plan Grant, the school created an on-site staff Fitness Center. Developed in coordination with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Wellness Program, the Center offers a wide range of physical activity and weight-lifting equipment. Now, this easily accessible location enables teachers and staff to go for a jog on the treadmill, do some strength training, or punch a boxing bag when convenient for them.

Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools, in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, works to help schools create healthier environments through policy, system, and environmental change efforts. The Action Plan Grants program provides $1,000 to $5,000 grants to participating schools and supports them with implementing their Healthy Schools Program projects.

“Kaiser Permanente recognizes that good health and lifelong success go hand in hand. The Fitness Center at Normont Elementary is part of a school wellness strategy that acknowledges keeping staff healthy is equally important as ensuring students are getting enough exercise and eating nutritious food. In turn, students are more likely to follow their teachers’ positive examples and adopt healthier habits.”

--Angela Coron, managing director, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente Southern California

The Center is a welcome addition to the campus. “Our new Normont Fitness Center has opened up opportunities for my fellow staff members and myself,” said Daniel Lasdow, Healthy Schools Program lead. “I haven’t been a member of a gym because I am tired when I get home from work, and gym memberships are also expensive. Now I can use the school gym before work, during my breaks, and after school.” 

Fifth-grade teacher, Kimberly Garfias, agreed. “The Fitness Center provides an opportunity for the teachers to take care of themselves, get some mental clarity, bond together, and earn some sweat equity.”

The Center opened in May 2019 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by various Normont Elementary, LAUSD, and community leaders, including LAUSD’s Superintendent of Schools Austin Beutner and Board of Education President Richard Vladovic. During this event, the district recognized Coron and Kaiser Permanente’s longstanding commitment to school wellness and community health. 

“I am so excited for my health,” Lasdow said. “I look forward to getting more fit every day. I know other staff members feel the same way. Thank you, Kaiser Permanente!”

Normont Elementary School is first in a series of stories highlighting how recent recipients of the Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools Action Plan Grants in participating school districts are using the funding to inspire long-term, sustainable change. From increasing student physical activity to improving staff social-emotional well-being, studies show a positive school environment helps boost academic achievement, classroom behavior, job satisfaction and retention, and overall health, among other benefits.