Originally published June 21, 2021 in the Post and Courier.
By Libby Stanford
More than 40 Charleston County schools received awards for their efforts to promote student and staff wellness this school year.
The awards were given out as part of the Medical University of South Carolina’s Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness School-Based Wellness Initiative. The schools that are recognized with a Wellness Award receive $250 to $2,000 to be used for programs that promote both physical and mental health.
The center gave out awards to 174 schools in 17 districts across the state. Of those 174, 41 schools were within Charleston County, and the grand prize of $2,000 went to James Island Elementary School.
Sullivan’s Island Elementary and Murray-LaSaine Montessori schools placed second and third among the Charleston County schools, according to a news release.
In total, the program gave $21,950 to Charleston County schools for the 2020-21 school year. The money is in addition to over $150,000 the district has received in wellness grants over the school year.
The money is being used to fund initiatives aimed at promoting physical activity and nutrition, such as school gardens or kinesthetic classrooms, which promote movement throughout the school day.
“Evidence shows that healthier students are better learners,” said Sarah Piwinski, the center’s assistant director. “They perform better academically, they behave better and have better attitudes.”
The center uses a School Wellness Checklist to push the school to create policies, systems and environmental changes that promote wellness, Piwinski said. The checklist looks at nutrition, physical activity, social-emotional learning, wellness culture, staff wellness and sustainability.
The checklist awards points for schools as they complete various goals. Those goals range from posting nutritional information for school meals to creating and supporting a student-led wellness committee.
The ultimate goal is to help students succeed in school by giving them the resources they need to be healthy.
James Island Elementary School was one of the top-performing schools in the program, Piwinski said. The school scored high for the creation of its Wellness Committee, which was the brainchild of school nurse Meredith Barnette and physical education teacher Ginny Jones.
The committee has worked to create both a garden and a running club. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school put those clubs on hold.
Instead, the committee created a campaign to encourage students to drink more water. The school offered every student a water bottle so they could work to meet those goals.
The school also put a focus on promoting staff wellness. Principal Jonetta Gregory said the staff has access to a wellness room full of snacks, flavored water and a calming atmosphere.
“I can’t do this without (the teachers),” Gregory said. “Having them in good health, physically and mentally, helps the school environment overall.”
The school’s teachers participate in a walking club and help students use the school’s garden. The school also put in a mile walking trail that families and teachers could use on their free time.
Gregory said the wellness committee initiative helps keep students focused throughout the year, which is later shown in their academic performance.
“That simply helps with their focus and to keep them awake in class,” she said. “We also attempt to have our kids see our teachers being physically active to encourage them to be physically active.”
Gregory said the school hasn’t yet planned how it will use the $2,000 award.