Jumping jacks foster teamwork in school crews

January 10, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Ida Williams is a grandmotherly woman of 58, with curly salt-and-pepper hair, a pleasant face -- and muscle-rippled arms.

She and her two-woman custodial crew at Clarksville Elementary School do a mean warm-up every day, part of a school system-sponsored exercise and wellness program intended to help prevent on-the-job injuries.

Arms stretched to the sides, the custodians circle their wrists forward 10 times and back 10 times.

Heads cocked to their chests, they roll their necks forward and back.

Legs slightly spread apart, eyes looking dead ahead, they prepare to do sets of jumping jacks.

"One, two, three, four," they mutter under their breath as they jump up and down.

The routine leaves them ready for a strenuous day's work, which may involve heavy snow shoveling, backbreaking trash hauling and heavy lifting.

"You and your crew do the exercises, then you get into a joking mood, and everything's fine," says Ms. Williams, a Clarksville custodian for more than 21 years. "When your body is loose, you can do a lot more and a lot better."

The program began two years ago for more than 250 custodians and ground and maintenance workers and has some similarities to the exercise programs Japanese industries require for their employees.

"We were trying to prevent some of the injuries -- back problems, sprains and strains," says Larry "Rick" Dorsey, an assistant manager for custodial and ground workers. "A lot of it was due to people coming into work and not being loose when they started."

The exercises are light calisthenic routines to loosen muscles, akin to warm-up exercises athletes do.

There's the thigh pry, the wrist twist, the hands bend and the lower leg stretch -- all aimed at relaxing such muscles as the biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings and obliques.

Some schools have staffs that do the exercises daily and religiously, while others perform them sporadically.

In general, the program seems to be working.

School officials report a decrease in injury incidents, 49 last year, down from 64 two years ago. They also note a decrease in days away from the job, 118 days last year, down from 267 days two years ago.

Officials and employees alike attribute the decreases to the exercise program, as well as to more training for custodians and other employees.

"We seem to be limbered up by the time we're done," says Betty Coon, chief custodian at Hammond elementary and middle schools. "We haven't really had any major injuries. We've been doing the exercises faithfully."

Ms. Williams, who said there haven't been any major job-related injuries among custodians at her school, said the exercises "relax your muscles."

"A lot of times you come in and you're really cold and you're not prepared to do the type of work we do, which is very strenuous," she says.

Her favorite warm-up is the jumping jacks. "It moves all parts of my body. At my age, I need it all," jokes Ms. Williams, who sometimes does the light calisthenics to the beat of quick-paced gospel music.

The custodians at Clarksville say they were happy to shed some pounds by following the daily 12- to 15-minute routine.

And they say the exercises also boost morale and promote camaraderie.

"It also helps us to function as team members," Ms. Williams says. "We have one of the best staffs here. We get along as a

team."

Said Joyce Stanley, another Clarksville custodian: "We've always been close. I guess we get to laugh more."

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