Calling all doctors: The Charleston County School District needs you.
By October, all 77 schools in the district will be required to start wellness committees, as mandated by state law (at least on paper), to help make schools healthier. It is a key component of the battle against childhood obesity and among the many courses of action recommended by Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative.
District Superintendent Nancy McGinley says she is taking the mandate seriously and that by the end of the month she will want to know who's playing point at each school.
Currently, 25 schools in the district have "viable" wellness councils, and a few of those have physicians serving a role.
Last week, McGinley met with the Charleston County Medical Society and other health interests about the effort, and they put out a blanket invitation for local doctors to volunteer for the "Adopt-a-School" program.
Both McGinley and Dr. Janice Key, a pediatrician at the Medical University of South Carolina, underscored the importance of the partnership and assured doctors that their roles won't be burdensome or time-consuming.
McGinley says if local doctors join up, they will help elevate the conversation on effective health and wellness initiatives that each school needs to tailor for itself.
"You have knowledge that we need," says McGinley. "You have expertise that will bring credibility to school-based health committees."
Key, whose work on The LEAN Team has established a wellness link between MUSC and the district, says the doctor's role on the committee will not be to see patients but to serve as a resource of ideas and information. Templates for service already have been established on those roles at schools that have a doctor on wellness committees.
Those schools, according to Dave Spurlock, district physical education director, have the most flourishing wellness committees. As examples, he pointed to Dr. Bill Randazzo at Mitchell Elementary School and Dr. Jill Aiken at Jennie Moore Elementary School.
Starting with teachers
For some, it may come as a surprise who the initiatives should target first: teachers and staff, not kids.
Key, who is part of The LEAN Team, says an evaluation of programs demonstrates that if teachers and staff adopt healthy lifestyles, students follow suit.
McGinley agrees, saying the staff is critical to creating a "wellness culture" in schools.
"We have to show our children that we are not oblivious to the fact adults need physical fitness and children need physical fitness," she says, adding that may be difficult in some ways. For example, a wellness culture would call for the end, or at least the curbing, of fundraisers that exploit cravings for unhealthy food, such as doughnuts.
"In two days, one of our schools made $2,000 selling doughnuts," admits McGinley. "In this tough economy, when we don't have money to give school's additional resources, the PTA is going to say what's an easy fundraiser and will want to bring in doughnut day or pizza day."
So let the brainstorming begin.
McGinley, who as a tennis player and surfer knows the value of exercise, says the effort goes beyond fitness.
"We need to do something to support our people (employees)," she says. "We've had people in our organization who have literally given their lives to Charleston County School District because of overwork, because of lack of health and fitness and proper work-life balance. And we don't want to lose anybody else. We want to support them. We want to encourage them to take care of not just their work self, but their personal self."
How to help
Doctors and other health professionals who want to volunteer in the “Adopt-a-School” program may contact Kaye Wallen at kaye@charlestonmedical society.org or 577-3613.
Jennie Moore Elementary School in Mount Pleasant has an active wellness committee, which includes volunteer pediatrician Dr. Jill Aiken, that has started a number of initiatives, including “Taste It Tuesdays” where students are encouraged to try diffe×
Making fitness fun is a key element of school wellness programs, and schools like Jennie Moore Elementary add in activities such as hula-hooping.×