Creating an environment of wellness in schools involves a mix of easy and hard tasks, says a representative of the winning school in an annual competition in the Charleston County School District.

What the top three finalists did this school year

Here are details of some of the initiatives taken on by the three schools scoring the highest number of points on the wellness checklist.

Goodwin Elementary

Goodwin, the winner, tapped into the eight components of the Coordinated Approach To Child Health program, or CATCH, which promotes physical activity, healthy food choices and the prevention of tobacco use in children.

The school held its first CATCH Wellness Night, featuring body-mass index and blood pressure measurements, healthy vendors, a bike giveaway and an appearance from an NFL player.

Like many schools, Goodwin started a garden. Its student-run daily news show features an exercise of the day and CATCH tip of the day about healthy eating choices. The school's fitness room was filled with a dozen pieces of equipment, including a surfing simulator.

Buist Academy

At Buist, the school implemented a policy for fundraisers that doesn't include food such as doughnuts and cupcakes.

Examples of fundraisers included a fall festival, the yearbook, a car wash, a Zumbathon for the Komen Lowcountry for the Cure and jump rope event for the American Heart Association.

Buist doesn't allow any sugary beverages on campus, promoted a policy of not having sweets at school birthday parties, and has a food-based garden.

Clubs included “I B Walking” and “I B Running.”

Students and staff participated in the Cooper River Bridge Run and Charleston Kids Marathon.

Angel Oak Elementary

Among the initiatives at Angel Oak was continuing a partnership with the Charleston Area Children's Garden Project to create a school garden, build a greenhouse and hold in-school farmers markets. Students also took field trips to farms. On Tuesdays, the school held a cooking club featuring healthy recipes, such as pumpkin lasagna, vegetable stir-fry and Hoppin' John.

Angel Oak participated in Walk to School Day, and running club members completed the Charleston Kids Marathon. The school finished second in the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission's “Get Out, Get Active” program. The school also secured a $2,000 grant from McDonald's to purchase fitness equipment.

Goodwin Elementary School in North Charleston won the third annual grand prize for wellness and a total of $3,000, from the Medical University of South Carolina Lean Team/Boeing Center for Children's Wellness.

Contest results

Seventy-two schools out of 80 in the Charleston County School District earned $1,000 each, funded by Boeing, for wellness efforts in the 2012-13 school year. That's up from 52 schools in the previous school year.

Of those 72 schools, 47 were elementary, 12 were middle and 13 were middle/high schools.

Schools were scored based on a checklist of activities and programs, such as school meals, snack policies, promoting water drinking, having a school garden, exercise activities, staff wellness efforts and community partnerships.

The top three schools in this year's contest were Angel Oak Elementary on Johns Island, Buist Academy (housed in Mount Pleasant for 2012-13) and Goodwin Elementary School in North Charleston. Each was visited by members of the MUSC Lean Team/Boeing Center for Children's Wellness “prize patrol” for verfication of activities on checklists.

Goodwin won the 2012-13 grand prize and was the first Title I school to do so. Previous winners were Sullivan's Island Elementary School and Harbor View Elementary School.

In all, nine faculty members were nominated by principals for the Mark Cobb Transformation Award, provided to a staff member who has served as an example of making positive health changes and played a major role in the school's wellness efforts. Only three were nominated last year.

In all, 72 schools with committees that coordinated yearlong wellness initiatives vied for the award. Each received $1,000, to be used for wellness equipment and programs, for this year's efforts. The awards were presented at the MUSC/Boeing Second Annual Wellness Roundtable on May 22 at Stall High School.

Words from winner

Melissa Zaremba, a third-grade teacher and wellness committee chairwoman at Goodwin, recalls taking copious notes at last year's presentation, but not with her sights of winning this year's top honor.

“I just wanted to change what we were doing,” says Zaremba, holding a silver cup trophy in her hands that will stay at Goodwin during the coming school year.

“We still have some changes to make. It's a work in progress. Some things were easy to do. Some things were going to take more time.”

Both she and Principal Diane Ross said the easy tasks were writing a mission statement, creating a school garden and starting a CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) tip of the day during the school's daily news show.

The hardest part: changing parents' minds about birthday parties and other celebrations conventionally celebrated with sugary foods.

“It is difficult to get them to wrap their mind around the fact that we don't need cupcakes at everyone's birthday,” says Zaremba. “We know our demographics. We know our children. As a Title I school, parents want to support their kids anyway they can, and the only thing they know what to do is to buy cupcakes.”

Ross says the wellness accomplishments are, and will continue to be, a faculty-wide effort and that she and the faculty understand the importance of setting an example.

“We started doing Fit Club, Insanity and Zumba. I bought everyone mugs so they could start drinking water,” says Ross. “It's a team effort and you just have to model and people will follow.”

Seed money

The school wellness gathering at Stall on May 22 was a dramatic showing that the future of wellness efforts in the Charleston County School District is looking up.

Representatives filled an auditorium and listened intently on the initiatives by representatives of Goodwin, Angel Oak and Buist schools. Vendors featuring health and nutrition products and services filled the lobby and passed out free food and beverages.

The event not only honored the schools, but faculty members nominated by principals for the Mark Cobb Transformation Award, designed to honor those who have served as examples of personal health but also have shown an interest in contributing to a “wellness culture” at the schools.

Dave Spurlock, district coordinator for wellness, credited the Boeing Co. for providing “seed money” as an incentive for spurring initiatives.

“Without the help of Boeing, this would be nothing but back patting,” Spurlock said during the greeting at the roundtable.

And yet, $1,000, which must be used for wellness programs, can be stretched so far.

Jennifer Moore of the MUSC Boeing center says the money has gone a long way for local school wellness, which is “not something that is funded and has never been a priority.”

“Look at what even a small amount of money for what schools can do,” says Moore of the initiatives spreading across the district. “They (wellness committees) are so creative.”

Coleen Martin, who preceded Boeing's involvement between the MUSC and the school district, says the MUSC/Boeing center staffers are amazed at how far the schools have come in such a short time.

“They achieve things under every circumstance that you can imagine. They don't have a budget for this. You heard all of the amazing things they did with no taxpayer budget,” says Martin.

Partners wanted

Boeing provides the biggest chunk of change for the wellness contest, but the MUSC/Boeing center is looking for more partners to join in the endeavor from volunteering services and making donations.

For example, on the eve before this year's roundtable, Earth Fare supermarket stepped up with a $1,000 donation via a relaunch of its website and a Facebook promotion.

“We're happy to give back to the community,” Hannah Ross, a spokeswoman for Earth Fare, said to the crowd.

Spurlock says Harbor View Elementary School received the money because it has continued strong wellness efforts, but was ineligible to compete for this year's contest because it was the 2011-12 winner.