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St. Mary's to promote health with $20,000 grant

May 30th, 2014 4:58 pm by Tony Casey

St. Mary's to promote health with $20,000 grant

Oh, the difference some money will make.

Coupled with the recent addition of a school garden and a successful afterschool running program at St. Mary’s Catholic School, principal Randi McKee and Dr. Heather Champney say being awarded a $20,000 grant makes for a healthy future for the school and its community.

Champney, a local pediatrician, member of the school’s Student Wellness Council and parent of students at St. Mary’s, helped collaborate with Beth Lowe, a professor at East Tennessee State University in the department of nutrition to write for a grant through General Mills called Champions for Healthy Kids.

“It was a big surprise,” Dr. Champney said about learning that her hard work for the school had paid off.

Fifty schools nationwide were awarded grants, and St. Mary’s officials are excited and ready to put theirs to work as soon as the money becomes available to them in about six weeks time. Dr. Champney, who heads the Kids Run the Nation afterschool running program with upward of half the school’s student body participating at one time, has been working to turn an unused portion of the campus on an approximately half-mile fitness trail that can provide both a place to increase physical health, but also serve as an outdoor classroom when it’s needed.

The big goal, she said, is to be able to work on it over the summer and have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the beginning of the next school year in early August. Another plus is the trail could be used by the community when school isn’t in session.

A fitness trail is just one way in which the $20,000 could be spent to better the overall health of the school and church community. A school lunch evaluation would be a quick way to assess what’s coming out of St. Mary’s cafeteria, which would give an opportunity to emphasize use of the bounty of the school’s garden. That would be an economic fix for the cost of shipping food as well as teaching healthy behaviors to the kids at an early age, which Dr. Champney says is fruitful in the long run.

Grant money could be used to buy a mobile kitchen cart that could be taken around from class to class to show different grades the ease and benefits of cooking with fresh local foods.

Eventually, Dr. Champney said she hopes the garden and healthy drive of the school can be great enough to produce both enough food for the school and for members of the community who need it most. None of this, she said, could be done without the help of the money from the grant or from the donations made by people who’ve been getting excited about the prospect of having a fitness trail around St. Mary’s.

The school’s approach to healthy living for its kids and their family is a big effort, she said.

“What the school does is multifold,” Dr. Champney said.

She points to the focus on showing the kids that they can be empowered by producing their own food in that they don’t have to depend on others or outside companies to produce the best foods imaginable and they can come from some elbow grease and a garden.

This part of the country, specifically, has challenges not faced by other areas of the country in the way of obesity and poverty, and Dr. Champney said she thinks a general health program like this will be beneficial for many reasons.

McKee applauded Dr. Champney’s efforts and said they a healthy life goes along well with what they’re trying to do at St. Mary’s.

“We want to make sure we’re not only giving our kids a healthy mind, but also a healthy body, too,” McKee said.

The school will continue to work with ETSU and with past Mountain States Health Alliance Heal grants to grow healthy kids and minds at St. Mary’s.

Anyone interested in donating to the school’s projects can do so by calling 282-3397.

Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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