A+ in school wellness Goodwin's winning ideas promote student health efforts

Kathryn Nash, school nurse for Belle Hall Elementary School, won 2012-13 Mark Cobb Transformation Award.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.