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A ‘plum’ reward

WISE grant brings healthy choices to North Central High

Posted: October 1, 2018 4:03 p.m.
Updated: October 2, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

The simple act of handing out plums gave students a chance to eat a healthy snack as they prepared for a long ride home from North Central High School in Sept. 25.

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The plums disappeared quickly.

As students waited to board their buses home from North Central High School (NCHS) on Sept. 25, Assistant Principal Rose Montgomery and junior Izzy Baipho rolled out the school’s fruit cart to the bus port with four baskets of plums. Students immediately crowded around. Montgomery and Izzy handed plums to whoever wanted one. It took all of perhaps five minutes before there were none of the round, dark red fruits left.

About one half-hour earlier, three students from a self-contained special needs class brought the fruit into Montgomery’s office where she keeps the cart.

Their participation, the cart, plums and, every Tuesday and Thursday, other fruit are the first results of a $4,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield Wellness Inspired School Environment, or WISE, grant.

Montgomery’s decision to apply for the WISE grant grew out of its partnership with LiveWell Kershaw. She said State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk attended one of the meetings, heard of the school’s desire to have fresh fruit as a healthy snack alternative and told Montgomery about the grant.

“It seemed like a good option,” Montgomery said. “We got together a focus group … and with input from the committee, I wrote the grant.”

She said the choice of focusing on students riding buses home in the afternoon recognizes the fact that some students spend one to one and a half hours on those bus rides. George Morrow’s agriculture class built the cart. Meanwhile, Izzy -- who interned during the summer with LiveWell Kershaw -- helped form a club called uKNIGHTed in Health.

“She sort of leads the club to incorporate healthy choices in school. Hopefully, the club will be able take over managing the cart,” Montgomery said. “It’s pretty cool. We’re also calling on (credential track) special needs students to assist. They’re learning from the cafeteria staff about wearing gloves, cleaning their hands and cleaning produce.”

Long term, they hope to teach these and other students about serving and eating the right proportions of food.

Montgomery said NCHS hopes to expand the program in several ways. In addition to offering fresh, local fruit from around the area, she would like to see students introduced to foods they may have ever seen before.

For the moment, though, the focus is on fruit. The first “expansion” Montgomery would like to see is a second cart for those students -- particularly athletes -- who participate in afterschool activities.

“We were fully funded for the grant for our size school. That’s about $100 a week, so there have been times when we’ve run out of fruit,” Montgomery said.

The school’s gotten additional help. About one week per month, for example, Kershaw County School District Nutrition & Food Service -- which maintains its own budget separate from the rest of the district -- donates fruit to the cause.

“It wasn’t an easy sell,” Montgomery said of speaking with food services Director Misha Lawyer, “but she agreed to send at least 150 items on their weeks, and has actually sent (more than) 210.”

Others have donated items or brought fruit from, for example, the Kershaw County Farmers Market. Both Funderburk and Montgomery’s own sister have assisted in those ways, she said.

“It involves so many parts of the community. It makes us feel good about it,” Montgomery said.

The plums handed out to bus riders on Sept. 25 are just one of the many fruits being offered. That day, Montgomery already had containers of a special fruit for Thursday in a refrigerator: Pluocts -- a plum/apricot hybrid. Nectarines are a popular buy at the Farmers Market; honey crisp apples have been brought from Hendersonville.

“Another goal would be to go picking at McBee Farms with the uKNIGHTed club,” Montgomery suggested.

But there are other ideas for inculcating healthy habits at NCHS.

“One of the uKNIGHTed members noted that we have a 1-mile walking track here at the school and asked if we could take a class out. We went to Principal (David) Branham and he said, ‘Yes, of course,’” Montgomery said.

“I’m excited about this,” Branham said during a separate interview. “She’s really worked hard with the kids, and it goes beyond healthy eating to a healthy lifestyle. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to get a little something healthy on the ride home.”

Branham said the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is involved; Montgomery said the Community Medical Clinic of Kershaw is also a partner.

uKNIGHTed also came up with what Montgomery calls “Brain Breaks.”

“These are, usually, five minutes of physical activities. One time we used ‘Thunder’ by Imagine Dragons to do squats. They also came up with a playlist for teachers for meditation and (yoga instructor) Mary Reames worked with LiveWell interns,” she said.

There have been guest speakers brought in to talk about healthy habits; there have been sessions on the effects of smoking and other poor habits.

“It’s all about increasing healthy options,” Montgomery said. “They key is more community support. If you’re traveling to the mountains, buy some apples. We’ll reimburse you -- it may take a while, but we will. The goal is to have more community involvement.”

Branham recognized the need for that involvement, too.

“To eat healthy, not only do you have to plan ahead, but it means spending more money, too,” he said.

Montgomery said she often hears stories of students’ needs and issues, including mental health issues, such as anxiety.

“The school can’t fix everything; we need a village to help us. So, the more vested we are in youth -- you can even help hand out the fruit -- the more likely they are to be successful,” Montgomery said.

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