Motivation Station

In some districts, cash prizes for staff weight loss

This mobile Weigh and Win kiosk moves around to different Denver Public School buildings.

Several Colorado school districts offer a program that rewards overweight adult participants—whether staff members or local residents–with cash prizes for losing weight.

Called “Weigh and Win,” the program is popping up in districts like Denver, Cherry Creek, Boulder Valley, Canon City, and Weld 6, and at libraries, hospitals and recreation centers across the state. In school districts, it’s typically seen as a staff wellness tool, though in some cases parents and community members are invited to enroll as well.

The centerpiece of Weigh and Win are kiosks where anyone 18 or over can sign up, step on a scale and get a full-length photograph taken. Participants then have access to an array of online or text-based services ranging from health coaching to grocery lists and meal plans.

Those with body-mass indices of 25 or over—the threshold for being overweight–are eligible for cash awards if they shed pounds between quarterly weigh-ins. Those with lower body-mass indices are entered into prize drawings if they do things like open Weigh and Win emails or refer friends to the program.

While Weigh and Win is free to individual participants, it’s not a non-profit organization. It was launched in 2011 by parent company incentaHEALTH and its kiosks cost up to $4,250 per year. Funding from the “DPS Health Agenda 2015″ grant covers that expense for Denver Public Schools.

Weigh and Win is contracted by Kaiser to deliver the program and earns money through annual per-participant fees paid by Kaiser.

Mandy Hydock, director of finance in Weld 6, has earned a total of $105 from Weigh and Win for losing 80 pounds over the last year. While she’s also consulted with a nutritionist unaffiliated with Weigh and Win, she said the program’s daily tips and reminders help her stay on track too.

“Any time people are incentivized with money, it helps keep you going,” she said. “It’s just human nature.”

Colleen Grandis, staff wellness coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said the program is simple and engaging for employees, and could eventually help the district save on health care costs.

“It was a great opportunity to just extend our wellness program,” she said.

In Colorado, more than half of adults are overweight or obese and more than a quarter of children ages 2 to 14 are overweight or obese. The rates are even higher for blacks and Hispanics.

DPS got a mobile “Weigh and Win” kiosk in 2013, but recent technology upgrades have put a greater focus on it this year. The kiosk–essentially a large sign, a scale and a tablet– regularly moves to different locations around the district, with stops this week at the transportation department building and Martin Luther King Jr. Early College.

All told, more than 650 people, including some community members, have signed up for Weigh and Win through DPS. Statewide, more than 60,300 people are enrolled.

While students can’t use the kiosks unless they are 18, Weigh and Win officials say the healthy habits promoted by the program have a trickle-down effect.

“If the parents utilize the program, it will help the children adopt these behaviors,” said Kaytee Long, health promotion manager at Weigh and Win.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”