Goddard Go almost anywhere in the Goddard School District, and you'll hear the telltale sounds of people getting healthy.
The toothsome crunch from biting an apple in the teachers' lounges, where once they snacked mostly on cookies. Labored breathing in the staff workout center. The pitter-patter of small feet trying to keep up with one elementary school principal on a fast-paced mile around the playground.
In three years, this district of 4,500 students and 500 employees has gotten serious about improving its collective health.
Districts in the Kansas City area have tackled student and staff wellness, too, but Goddard, an eight-school district just west of Wichita, has distinguished itself by a unique approach - using staff members as role models.
It "definitely is a leader in the state," said Tami Larson, a health educator for the state's Coordinated School Health Program.
When told of Goddard's efforts, an expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called them "cutting edge." Goddard "is becoming a champion in Kansas that others will follow," said Allison Balling, obesity prevention specialist.
Soon, Goddard's story will be told nationwide.
In December, two researchers from Kansas University School of Medicine-Wichita will talk at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Assn. A few years ago they helped the district see how to improve the school community's health.
Goddard's initiative comes in an era of rampant child obesity. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 16 percent of children from ages 6 through 19 are overweight or obese. That figure is three to four times the rate of the late 1960s.
Many school districts are addressing the problem but typically focus only on students, said Judy Johnston, a dietitian and researcher at the medical school in Wichita.
"Goddard got it right : saying, 'What are we going to do to improve the health of the work force so they become role models?'" she said. "They have this whole cadre of people who get it. Now they have this tremendous momentum because of that investment."
Health is a value that pervades school life in Goddard. It starts at 7:50 a.m. each Monday in the Challenger and Discovery intermediate schools.
"It's time to get your cheeks out of the chair and do the Monday morning stretch," two students said one morning last week. A teacher then instructed the students in an arm stretch and led them through 20 jumps.
After school on Mondays, teachers calling themselves the "broad broads" gather at Clark-Davidson Elementary school. They weigh in and put into a kitty $1 for each pound gained. Then the group spends the fund on something fun - and presumably low-cal.
Two afternoons a week, up to a dozen employees at Amelia Earhart Elementary School suit up and bounce in the school gym to beat-heavy dance-club tunes. They asked physical-education teacher Kim Klein to lead them in an exercise class using a stability ball, and she gladly went along.
At every school in the district, strategies for health and fitness have percolated to the surface.
Klein gives students a little molded plastic foot for every five miles they log. They string them on a chain. Joan Pritchard, assistant superintendent, is in the club, and her chain holds dozens of plastic feet.
Charlie Edmonds, Goddard superintendent, was hoping for something like this when he told his staff in 2002 that he wanted to improve health in the district. He was disturbed that the district's health-insurance premiums were rising by 10 percent or more each year.
Edmonds follows his own advice. Now 63, he recently lost 35 pounds and said he ran at least 1,000 miles last year.
"My pulse is under 50 when I'm sitting around," he boasted. "If I'm really, really angry, it might get to 70."