Helping kids start waking up to wellness

Though longer school days and more rigorous classes are prevalent in middle schools across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, gym class and healthy activities sometimes seem to take the backseat – but not for one local campus that is working to ensure its students are making healthy living a reality.

Students at Crestdale Middle School participate in healthy activities during a physical education class at the school.

Crestdale Middle School parent Mary-Gail O’Dea has two kids, one in sixth-grade at Crestdale and another a freshman at Providence High. But after watching her high school daughter pass through middle school, she started seeing unhealthy patterns that she hopes to prevent for future students at Crestdale.

“I saw what happened to my older daughter – she wasn’t as active, she wasn’t eating as well,” said the south Charlotte mom, who also is a psychologist at Presbyterian Samaritan Counseling Center in Matthews. “I thought ‘How can we bring the gifts (of the counseling center) into the community?’”

O’Dea started doing research on middle school students, learning the age group can be very vulnerable, she said. She then met with Crestdale’s gym teachers and Wellness Committee, creating a partnership and initiative to kick-off a new wellness program at the school to begin January 2013.

‘“We’re just trying to be preventive,” O’Dea said. “I think CMS is encouraging middle schools to be attentive about wellness, but I think this seems to be one of the first multi-intentional
programs.”

The new program will kick-start a Wellness Club at the school, will initiate a Wake-up to Wellness exercise every morning for all students and teachers and will feature special guest speakers some Fridays during physical education classes. O’Dea said the group also is working to plan at least one healthy, family event each month during the second semester –  including at least two Crestdale Walks, which would feature only healthy snacks, another initiative O’Dea hopes to incorporate into all Crestdale school events.

O’Dea said the program will build on the curriculum current physical education teachers Neil Gerspach and Andrew Cambruzzi have already put in place.

“The gym teachers are amazing,” O’Dea said. “They were already fired up about having a healthier school”

Gerspach said in health and physical education classes – which students participate in at least one semester – one thing the teachers encourage students to do is take what they learn home. One assignment in particular, Gerspach explained,
encourages students and their families to make a healthy meal, making healthy decisions together as a family.

But he said the new wellness program will be a great addition to the school’s current curriculum, especially the addition of guest speakers and monthly family events. Gerspach said the school already encourages parents to take walks with their kids and use that time to discuss key issues such as drugs and alcohol, issues many students are first exposed to in middle school.

Overall, Gerspach is excited to have more resources to teach students healthier habits.

“Kids have a lot of things going on in their lives. They have a great deal of homework and as a P.E. teacher, they only get to see me half of the year,” Gerspach said. “The more knowledge they have and the more tools we give them – these are lifelong decisions and practices they can do forever.”

O’Dea said she already has some sponsors for the program and hopes to get commitments from community members to be guest speakers for workshops on things like healthy eating, mental health and depression, sleep habits and eating disorders.

But the group is still looking for support.

“We did get a great donation from Connolly Orthodontics in Matthews, but we would really like to get the community involved,” O’Dea said, adding healthier food comes with a higher price tag. The school also would like to purchase T-shirts for their events.

“I would love to get around $3,000 to $5,000,” she said about her fundraising goal. “Right now we have around $300, so we have a ways to go.”

Local businesses or individuals interested in donating to the Wildcat Wellness Program should contact O’Dea at mgfodphd@gmail.com. Donate $50 to $149 to have your business logo on T-shirts made for the wellness program. Donate $150 to $299 and have your business logo on program T-shirts and have your business logo displayed on a banner in the school’s front lobby from January to August. Donate $300 or more and have your logo on T-shirts, a banner in the school’s lobby and your business’s logo also will appear in every issue of Crestdale’s Wildcat Weekly newsletter from January to June, reaching more than 750 homes each week.

“I think kids, when they grow up in the elementary level, they are very active and as they go into middle school, they start to top out in terms of growth and development,” Gerspach said. “The biggest thing in middle school is that they start developing positive habits and if we encourage healthy living both outside and inside of school, it will really benefit them.”

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