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SES students empowered for healthier living, choices
kristin waters britny woods 2
Students at Springfield Elementary School pay close attention to what Kristin Waters and Britny Woods, from Effingham County High Schools Health Occupation Student Association, tell them about making better choices for healthier eating and healthier living. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

Students at Springfield Elementary School are taking charge of their health.

The school earned a HealthMPowers grant from the state that incorporates health education lessons and provides resources to teach students — and teachers — how to make healthy choices.

“We appreciate the opportunity to join with HealthMPowers to promote healthy lifestyles for students and staff members,” said Terri Johnson, principal at Springfield Elementary. “I am proud of our staff for making a commitment to this important initiative and modeling positive choices for our students.”

The three-year grant program, worth $15,000 per 500 students annually, is part of the federal program Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed). They provide assemblies and materials to schools that teachers can incorporate into the Georgia Performance Standards.

“HeathMPowers encourages you to spend a certain amount of time in the classroom focused toward healthy living and active lifestyles, like exercising with the kids,” said parent liaison Amanda Wright, who is helping coordinate the program at SES. “Teachers log their time online. What helps us keep the grant is the teachers fulfilling that.”

Springfield Elementary is the only school in Effingham to receive the grant, and 16 other schools in Chatham also earned the grant and are participating in the program. HealthMPowers is working with 83 schools across the state. To qualify, schools had to have 50 percent or more of their students enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program.

“The school actually takes ownership of the program themselves,” said Kendall Wall, project leader at HealthMPowers. “We train trainers; so there are three or four local school contacts that come to a training three times a year. Then they take it back to the schools, they take all the resources, material we give them. And they actually track for us online.”

The school keeps the grant by logging time and activities online.

This week, HealthMPowers staff from Atlanta brought in the Body Walk. The tent and tarp structure sent students shuffling through a larger than life covered maze representing different organs in the human body.

Students from Effingham County High School’s Health Occupation Student Association (HOSA) manned each of the nine stations with a short lesson about how good and bad health choices affect the “organ” they were stationed in. The students spent four and a half minutes at each station, and teachers quizzed them afterward to see how much they’d retained.

“It’s all about empowering them,” said Wall. “If they know that they have the choice to make and that this is what’s going to be good and healthy for my body and this is going to be bad for my body, what am I going to do but choose the healthier option? It’s about empowering them.”

For two weeks this year, the school had a “Catch a Teacher Being Healthy” contest, where students would sign off if they saw a teacher drinking water or eating vegetables or fruits during the week.

“The cutest part about that was they had to have evidence,” said Harriett Snooks, assistant principal at Springfield Elementary. “You couldn’t say you ate an apple today, they had to see you. They were tough.”

Fifth grade teacher Jessica Foster said that she’s started using oranges instead of candy to reinforce positive classroom behavior.

“I usually do candy,” she said, “but since this program started, I decided I’m not going to do candy, I’m going to do fruit. So I had some oranges at home and brought them in, and boy, they will work for a piece of fruit. They are asking for apples, strawberries, grapes. And it gets them eating that healthy food.”

She also said the program has inspired her to get her class to do jumping jacks if they start looking a little drowsy and that after they walked through the Body Walk, she had her students take a few laps around the gym.

HealthMPowers hopes to curb childhood obesity by empowering students to make healthy choices.

“We’d like to catch them early,” said SES school nurse Gena Kicklighter, “from the time they’re in kindergarten, first grade and teach them healthy living and making better choices.”

Wall said that during their 10 years working in Georgia, students responded positively to the program. She said they have had a student diagnosed with Type II diabetes through their program and that teachers have reported losing weight as well

“This is a fun and educational way to encourage both students and teachers to improve their health and lifestyles,” Snooks said. “We believe the work HealthMPowers is doing in Georgia schools is an important step in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic statewide and we are a proud partner in this fight.”

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