Steps for Schools: The Challenge Continues

64 Idaho legislators walk to support local schools

By Abigail Thorpe

Article by Coeur d’Alene Living Local.

Walking may be a simple activity we do daily, often without giving it much thought, but such a simple thing can bring great change—in our health, in our attitude and outlook, and now, in our schools. The walking challenge is back, and despite a year of challenges and a pandemic, our Idaho legislators and leaders are eager to champion for health, and they’re starting out by leading by example.

In February, members of the Idaho State Legislature, as well as the lieutenant governor, attorney general and state controller, joined the walking challenge to help raise awareness of healthy habits, as well as raise money for schools throughout the state. Sixty-four participants agreed to walk 5,000 or more steps each day during the month of February in a united effort to promote health and support our youth, including those representing Bonner, Boundary and Kootenai counties.

“We are grateful that so many of our elected officials are making time to do what’s good for their own health as well as benefiting children in their district,” says Kendra Witt-Doyle, executive director, Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health. “Whether they are walking in their communities on the weekends or around the Capitol during the session, these officials are setting a great example about the importance of being active.”

Steps for Schools is a walking challenge that unites our state’s leaders in an effort to raise money for schools’ walking and physical activity programs. The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health—a nonprofit charitable foundation established in 2001 by Blue Cross of Idaho—started the program as a way to engage communities and their leaders in a healthy challenge that not only promotes health but furthers school education. “We want to promote and build champions for health while benefiting Idaho’s youth,” adds Witt-Doyle.

The foundation has a similar walking challenge for mayors, and this one started as a way to engage state legislators as well. “It definitely has promoted physical activity among the legislators and given them a mechanism for giving back to the communities they serve,” she explains. “Numerous legislators have talked to us about how the challenge improved their health and how much they enjoyed walking to benefit the youth in their community.”

Steps for Schools takes place during February—which is during the legislative session. It empowers legislators to get involved during their busy session as a tool for empowering our leaders, and in turn our communities, to make time for exercise no matter the season.

The program started in 2016 as a fun and easy way to engage leaders in a healthy activity that can inspire and promote change, and it has been a popular and successful challenge since its inception. It has four main goals: Remind lawmakers to think about childhood health issues in Idaho; highlight lawmakers as role models for our youth; create awareness of health issues in Idaho; and finally to promote childhood wellness throughout the state.

Last year, more than $40,000 was given to Idaho schools as a result of the challenge, going to help fund walking programs and promote physical activity at schools that encourages students from a young age to make exercise a part of their daily lives.

This year, 64 legislators representing 34 of Idaho’s 35 districts participated in the challenge. Participants could either walk an average of 5,000 steps daily during February to earn $500 for schools, or an average of 10,000 steps daily to earn $1,000.

All of the funds raised went to a school or school district of the legislator’s choice, ensuring that schools in each of the represented districts received funding and support.

Bonner and Boundary counties were represented by Representatives Heather Scott and Sage Dixon this year; Senator Steve Vick walked to represent Bonner and Kootenai counties; and Senators Peter Riggs and Mary Souza and Representatives Paul Amador and Tony Wisniewski joined the challenge to represent Kootenai County.

This year, in addition to supporting physical activity and walking programs, funds can also be used to support schools’ COVID-19 relief efforts. Representative Dixon’s funds will go to support Farmin Stidwell Elementary in Sandpoint; Senator Vick’s to North Idaho Christian School in Hayden; Senator Riggs selected North Idaho STEM Charter Academy to receive funding; and Representative Amador chose Coeur d’Alene Learning Center to benefit from the challenge.

“Our legislators are leaders in their communities, and the walking challenge gives them the opportunity to be a role model for health and community health,” says Witt-Doyle. By starting at the top with leaders we respect and choose to represent and champion for our communities, the challenge aims to create a trickle effect that will set an example for all ages, and inspire a spirit of change in personal health by reminding us all that daily exercise is essential to our health and happiness.

“Walking has so many positive benefits to mental and physical health,” adds Witt-Doyle. “It is accessible and free.” We may not all have the accessibility or option to join a gym, hire a personal trainer or participate in group classes, but walking is an activity we all do daily that has many health benefits. Simply walking for 30 to 45 minutes daily boosts your mood, keeps your heart healthy, helps manage your weight and is beneficial for mental health. It can even lead to a longer life.

All too often we forget to get out and walk in the midst of our busy schedules. Steps for Schools is a good reminder that all it takes is some determination and a bit of time out of the day to boost your health.

By starting at the top with our leaders during the legislative session, the challenge is a reminder that our health starts with something as simple as a walk, and that we can all make time regardless of how busy we are. It is also an important reminder to our lawmakers and leaders that the health of our youth is vital to the health of our communities.

Photos are from the 2020 Steps for Schools finale that took place before COVID-19 reached Idaho.