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MUSC Boeing Center and CCSD Partnership Improving the District’s Wellness Culture

What started as a programmatic health initiative at Burke High School ten years ago, has turned into a district-wide wellness commitment within Charleston County School District (CCSD). (Photo Story)

The MUSC Boeing Center for Children's Wellness (BCCW) was developed as a partnership between MUSC and CCSD in 2007. The program was initially housed out of Burke and only reached a handful of schools. 

Wellness AwardThe wellness initiative has since expanded to a state-wide effort with the goal of improving nutrition and increasing physical activity for students and staff by motivating districts and schools to make policy, system, and environmental changes. 

Schools who participate select proven strategies from the School Wellness Checklist© and earn points awarded for each wellness item implemented. The team at the MUSC BCCW partners with teachers, administrators, and district personnel to follow a “train the trainer” model by providing training, resources, and connecting the schools with community partners to increase the sustainability of their wellness programs.

During the 2017-2018 school year, 45 CCSD schools earned a Wellness Award. The first place winner was James Island Elementary School (JIES). The second and third place winners were Harbor View Elementary(HVES) and Murray LaSaine Elementary (MLE).

Ashley RiverThe Roper St. Francis Physicians Endowment has funded the monetary awards for two years, which range from $250 to $2,000. The award money must go into the Wellness Awareness Initiative at each school. In total, almost $22,000 went to CCSD schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

“District personnel, leaders at the school and wellness committees, do all the work,” said Courtney Hensch, Program Coordinator. “They take full ownership, choose items on the wellness checklist that fit the school’s culture and environment and implement them. Every school is so different in CCSD; what works for one, won’t work for another.”

The Wellness Checklist has seven categories with various point-weighted actions. For example, the Nutrition category has 22 action items that range from posting nutritional analysis information for each menu item to offering a salad on a daily basis.

“This coordinated approach to wellness is working,” said Janice Key, MD, Director of BCCW. “We have seen a decrease in obesity in participating schools. For example, obesity prevalence in CCSD has decreased significantly from 25 percent in the 2008-2009 school year, to 21 percent in the 2015 2016 school year.”

The Schools –How They Did It

Food TastingMary Ford Elementary School 
nurse Charlene Barbot helped to initiate the program to address the high level of behavioral and academic issues among the students.

“We looked at the hierarchy of needs here and decided to start with the basics,” said Barbot. “You can’t expect children to come in and learn if they’re not nourished, hydrated, healthy, and rested.”

A Water Campaign was one part of that effort.

“It became very obvious that students were dehydrated,” explained Barbot. “We changed out all of our water fountains, distributed water bottles to each student, and started providing water infused with fruits and vegetables.”

Along with that, the school hosted Wellness Week with themes surrounding not only hydration, but sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

“On average, we saw eight to ten office referrals a day,” said Barbot. “During Wellness Week we had three referrals for the entire week. The student engagement was unparalleled to anything else we’ve seen.”

Barbot said that little by little the school is getting parent buy-in.

“Changing the health of the students is just a band-aid if you’re not getting the whole family on board,” said Barbot. “You can’t just do it for the students. It’s got to be a community effort.”

Ladson - MUSC ProjectLiz Chirles, the school counselor at JIES, made a concerted effort to get everyone from the PTA to students, teachers, and staff involved in the wellness campaign.

Food tasting events and a wellness challenge helped to get the parents involved. The money awarded for being the top school will go back into the school's efforts to offer different opportunities such as after-school yoga classes for teachers.

“This year we’re kicking it up a notch,” said Chirles. “We wanted to provide exposure for both teachers and students. We’re taking the wellness checklist and expanding to doing more items, more often.”

CCSD’s Instructional Specialist for Health and PE, Holly Kut explained that once everyone at the school is onboard to start making those changes, the students begin to see that they should care about their health as well.

“If we can change it within the school system then we can take these initiatives home, and it becomes a community involvement,” said Kut. “The health index focuses on the whole person and is referred to as a health triangle,” said Kut. “The physical, social and mental health of each individual is important because when one goes up, the others do too.”

At HVES, school nurse, Faith Hostetler, and teacher assistant Heather Hord, are co-chairs of the Wellness Committee. 

“We have always been big on physical activity, and since last year we focused on nutrition, having more school-wide fruit and vegetable tastings,” said Hord. “We use the HVES news show to promote the tastings, water drinking, and fun information and activities. HVES has been participating in the wellness challenge for eight years. As the years go on, we are getting more parents who want to be involved, helping us with activities which are so important.”

The 2019 School Wellness Checklist is due to BCCW in April, and the points will be compiled and verified. A prize patrol will then be deployed to the top three schools and a wellness celebration, will be held in May to recognize those schools formally.

For more information about the CCSD and MUSC Boeing Center for Children's Wellness partnership, contact Holly Kut at