School’s in session for health advocates

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – More than 40 people from around the state braved snowy, icy and slushy roads to help deliver healthier schools Thursday.
The Wellness Summit, hosted by HealthWorks! and SHAPE, was smaller than planned Thursday, but still drew nutrition directors, school nurses, physical education teachers and other school health advocates from around the state.
SHAPE – Strengthening Health and Physical Education – is a federally funded entity at the children’s health education center and is designed to link schools and parents with resources to combat childhood obesity.
“The childhood obesity problem is definitely important enough for us to get out and about the latest research and programs for our schools,” said Lee County Schools child nutrition director Susan Killens, who was one of several Tupelo and Lee County personnel attending Thursday.
Dwain Strickland, Jones County Schools nutrition and wellness director, drove in Wednesday from south Mississippi to make sure he made the conference.
“I always go to all the state meetings so I can catch up on any new information and programs and bring it back,” Strickland said.

Health is academic
University of Southern Mississippi Professor Jerome Kolbo drove from Hattiesburg on Thursday morning to deliver information on his research that showed a strong connection between physical fitness and academic achievement.
“It’s important to share this,” Kolbo said before returning to Hattiesburg on Thursday.
Over three years, Kolbo has tracked 6,000 third- through eighth-grade students in 25 Mississippi schools. Physical education teachers used Physical Best curriculum and FitnessGram software to track how well students were meeting specific fitness benchmarks based on age and gender.
They connected those fitness scores to the results on the Mississippi Curriculum Test, second edition, which measures how well students have mastered math and language curriculum.
“The more fitness zones they achieved, the more likely they were to score proficient and advanced,” Kolbo said.
More research is needed to better understand the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement, said Kolbo, who advocates for more effective physical education and activity, not necessarily more minutes.
“Just physical education is not enough,” Kolbo said. “It has to be what do they do with the time for physical education and physical activity.”
Educators and school staff are hungry for resources and programs that can help Mississippi’s children, who as a group are the heaviest in the country.
Tupelo family physician and health education advocate Dr. Ed Hill, who serves as the World Medical Association chairman and sits on the Mississippi Board of Health, said there has been a tremendous, coordinated effort at the local, regional and state levels to combat the childhood obesity problem.
“We’ve made great strides in this state,” Hill said during a break in the conference. “It takes a while to see results.”
Office of Healthy Schools director Shane McNeill, who spent the night in Grenada to make sure he would make the conference, said he’s gratified that students in 25 districts around the state will benefit from the information and resources shared at the conference.
“It’s exciting to see the dedication and commitment,” McNeill said. “Across the state, people are looking for resources and support.”
Before snowy weather disrupted travel plans, 150 people were registered from 49 school districts and another 50 were on the waiting list for the free conference.
“The weather was disappointing,” said SHAPE coordinator Kathy Tucker. “But rescheduling wasn’t an option” because of conflicts with spring break and state testing.
A health council workshop is planned for the fall, and Tucker is looking at options for repeating the conference.
“The interest shows the need is there,” she said.

Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or