School wellness

Buist Academy School Nurse Polly Porter-Campbell, the school's wellness committee chairwoman, accepts the coveted wellness cup from Goodwin Elementary's Matt Granger for being the top wellness school in Charleston County School District last week. From left is Harborview Elementary principal Laura Latto, Harborview parent Crystal Rooskins, Harborview nurse Faith Hostetler, Buist teacher Tracie Howe and Buist Interim Principal Jean Siewicki.

Efforts to create wellness cultures - ones that encourage physical movement, healthy eating and drinking, and a more sustainable school environment - in Charleston County schools are bearing fruit not only here but neighboring counties and, soon, the rest of the state.

The formula for success by the MUSC Boeing Center for Children's Wellness is simple and costs the taxpayer nothing.

First, schools must have active wellness committees.

Second, they follow a checklist of evidence-based health initiatives, which serves as a framework or template for progress, over the school year and aim to score enough points from the checklist to qualify for year-end $1,000 awards from Boeing.

Third, it urges local doctors to "adopt" a school and to serve on its wellness committee, providing expertise and skills to the school.

To provided incentives for progress, the center has held ceremonies at the end of the school year for four years to honor top schools and hand out awards. This year, the center changed the name of the ceremonies from Wellness Roundtable to Wellness Achievement Celebration.

The center held two last week and will hold another one later this week.

Last week, center staffers trumpeted achievements in the past school year and handed out checks at the year-end Wellness Achievement Celebration in school districts in Charleston and Berkeley counties.

In Charleston County, 71 of 80 schools participated. All but two scored enough points for $1,000 awards. Buist Academy won the grand prize, an additional $2,000, for scoring the most points.

Dave Spurlock, Charleston County School District's wellness coordinator, says he is proud that the district is serving as the center's pilot program and is in the vanguard of wellness nationally.

"Nothing is more important to an organization than the health of its members. Charleston County School District's efforts are unmatched anywhere in the United States," says Spurlock.

"Our schools have built environments of wellness for their staffs and students and shown that a healthy school will be productive school.

Meanwhile, the Berkeley County School District also posted good numbers in its second year of participation.

Of 42 schools, 22 schools participated in the wellness challenge, an increase of 12 schools from its inaugural year, and earned awards. Devon Forest Elementary won the grand prize, also $2,000 extra.

At 1 p.m. Friday at Summerville High School, the center will hold the Wellness Achieve Celebration for Dochester County School District 2, where all 22 schools participated and all qualified for an award. The grand prize winner will be announced Friday.

Carolyn Battaglia Lindstrom, the center's program coordinator, says the 100 percent score was a first since the center started using the checklist four years ago.

"The schools in this district have achieved some incredible things in their first full year participating," says Lindstrom.

But the center isn't limiting its sights to the tri-county area.

After the center issued requests for proposals in April, it received initial applications from 11 school districts in South Carolina.

Full applications are due in a month and the center will have to decide which districts to expand to.

As expected, it will require more partnerships, both for the center and individual schools.

The MUSC Heart and Vascular Foundation is providing a $100,000 grant to work with schools along the Interstate 95 corridor, an area identified for having disparities for health care.

Lucie Kramer, a registered dietitian and center team member, says the center also will look to partner with other state-wide agencies and organizations such as S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control; Eat Smart, Move More; and hospitals.

"We are so pleased to have Boeing's support to continue our work and to expand it to include other South Carolina school districts," says Kramer.

"The important task we have going forward is encouraging and assisting schools to find business or organization partners to fund their Wellness Achievement Awards."

And while the center's verifiable checklist provides a framework, it still gives schools flexibility and creativity to grow in their own way.

Kramer says school wellness committees were empowered to seek out their own sponsorships, such as Wando High's with Atlantic Spine Clinic for $500, and grants from the Cooper River Bridge Run. She also noted that many formed walking and running clubs and purchased equipment.

"A record number of schools included students on their wellness committee," says Kramer. "This is an idea we support to enhance the capacity of the wellness committee and make students feel included in wellness efforts."

Polly Porter-Campbell, the school nurse at Buist Academy and wellness committee chairwoman, says she was happy that the school, which was a runner-up last year, was finally the district's wellness champion this year.

Among the initiatives Buist did this year was a student running club, which participated in the Charleston Youth Marathon and Cooper River Bridge Run, participated in Eat Smart, Move More's "Let's Go H2O" campaign to encourage water drinking and healthy food tastings.

Porter-Campbell adds that Buist, which moved back into its renovated building on Calhoun Street this year, is excited to have a gymnasium for the first time in its history. It also must be creative to maximize space in a relatively small playground for the 452-student school.

Individual schools aren't the only ones who receive honors at the wellness celebration. Faculty members and volunteers who are part of wellness committees do, too.

This year's winner of the Mark Cobb Transformation Award for Charleston County was Josie Strong, the physical education teacher at James Simons Elementary School on Leeds Avenue in North Charleston.

Strong was nominated by school nurse Jennifer Yarborough, who says Strong was "key this year in creating a culture of wellness," both professionally and personally.

"This year, Josie created a tennis team for James Simons giving the players and the school a new sense of camaraderie," says Yarborough. "Josie acknowledges, with her initiatives, the correlation between health and the ability to learn. ... She has ongoing energy and a positive attitude that again exemplifies her commitment to a healthy lifestyle."

For Strong, a runner who completed this year's Charleston Half Marathon, among the highlights of this year were starting the tennis team, getting students to have at least 120 minutes of physical activity per week, and having after-school Zumba classes for teachers.

"I really believe in health and wellness not only in adults but in children and I feel like if you have a few people that are passionate about it, you can change an entire school or community. That's why I think anyone with drive, spirit and enthusiasm can do it."

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.