By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> Area schools participated in a wellness competition throughout the 2014 — 2015 year with the overall goal of decreasing childhood obesity.
Ten schools competed in the first ever Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s School Health Initiative. Schools from the Boyertown, Pottstown and Pottsgrove district participated in this year’s contest as well as three private institutions.
The idea was adopted from and organized in partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina’s Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness.
“This is an obesity prevention initiative,” said Coleen Martin, the assistant director of the Boeing Center.
Martin said the contest reduces obesity by creating healthier school environments. The healthy program has two components. The Docs Adopt School Health Initiative gets physicians to participate in school wellness committees while a wellness checklist helps guide schools to create a culture of health. A doctor on the wellness committee isn’t required to enter the contest but encouraged.
Schools that entered the competition earned points by completing items on a checklist which has several categories such as nutrition, physical activity, and stress management. Every time a school made a healthy change under the guidelines, they were awarded points. Schools that earned enough points throughout the year received a $1,000 award and a banner. The school with the most points earned an additional $2,000 and a wellness trophy.
All 10 schools that participated in the contest attended a wellness achievement ceremony last week at Brookside Country Club in Pottstown. Every school was awarded a $1,000 check to further wellness programs. The Wyndcroft School, a private elementary institution, was announced as the first place winner while Franklin Elementary in Pottstown and Pottsgrove Middle School tied for second place.
Martin said the healthy school checklist began in South Carolina five years ago and the pilot community was the Charleston School District. She said the guidelines make it easy for schools to create their own wellness practices. The program has continued to grow and about 200 South Carolina schools participated this year as well as those in the Pottstown area, Martin said.
Ashley Pultorak is the Pottstown health foundation’s program officer for schools, recreation and active living. She learned of the healthy contest through a speaker from last year’s “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds Institute.” The institute is an annual wellness seminar funded through the foundation.
Last year’s keynote speaker was David Spurlock, a health and physical education coordinator from Charleston, S.C. Pultorak traveled to South Carolina last year to visit Spurlock and learned more about the healthy school checklist. She was intrigued by the contest and wanted to bring it back to the Pottstown area.
“The checklist is an evidence-based summary of how to create a culture of health in a school,” she said.
Martin said every school in the contest has to show proof that they completed the items on the checklist. She said this leads to healthier communities. Martin said several schools in Charleston, S.C. have shown that the wellness checklist works.
“The higher they scored on our checklist, the lower the BMIs, the lower the behavioral referrals, the better the attendance and the better the test scores,” she said.
Dave Kraybill, the president of the Pottstown health foundation, said some people may ask why a wellness organization funds education efforts.
“Education, wellness and health are symbiotic,” he said adding that students with better educational outcomes usually also having better health outcomes.
All the schools at the wellness ceremony were proud to share some of the healthy efforts they completed through the checklist.
Allison Carr, the school nurse at Wyndcroft, said she was shocked to find out they had won the entire competition. Wyndcroft didn’t have a wellness committee before this school year and many of their initiatives were created through the healthy checklist, she said.
“We just hit the ground running,” Carr said.
The school created healthy programs like Walking Wednesdays, a water hydration station and healthy food tastings. Wyndcroft cafeteria manager Nancy Boerner said she was proud of the healthy changes they’ve made to the lunch menu recently.
“We did everything in our power not only to win but also to make a healthier school,” she said.
The school’s cafeteria assistant Lori Kummerer said kids now ask for fruit as snacks.
Pottstown School district wellness coordinator David Genova was at the ceremony last week to represent Franklin Elementary. He said the contest helped him appreciate the collaborative efforts that happened because of the checklist.
“It takes more than just the responsibility of the nurse and P.E. teachers to create a culture of wellness. It really takes everybody,” he said.
Franklin Elementary school nurse Anne Frederick said the healthy checklist proved wellness initiatives work.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that we’re seeing a decrease in BMI not only at Franklin Elementary but district wide,” she said.
Franklin Elementary Principal Kevin Downes said he was most proud of the parent engagement piece. He said the policy change led people to bring creative, healthy foods in for celebrations.
“We’re talking bananas turned into dolphins with a grape in its mouth. It was incredible,” he said.
Pottsgrove Middle School Principal Dave Ramage said the concept of wellness is starting to be embedded into the school culture and becoming routine.
Boyertown Elementary school counselor Karen Virtue said she was happy to see students get involved in wellness programs.
“One of the things I was really impressed with was seeing the students so excited to join in this wellness initiative…just seeing the kids want to be healthier in so many ways was really exciting,” she said.
Pultorak said the healthy contest went great for its first year in the Pottstown area. She said the contest was open to all the schools in the foundation’s coverage area, which is about 80 buildings, and hopes participation will continue to expand in the future. To learn more about the contest that began in South Carolina, visit academicdepartments.musc.edu/leanteam/Wellness-Checklist-Contest.