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Wellness is daily focus at McLaurin Elementary

NATCHEZ — At Gilmer McLaurin Elementary School — Mississippi’s healthiest school as named by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Wednesday — health and wellness are heavily incorporated into the students’ day-to-day activities, said Physical Education Coach, Rick Todd.

“We pretty much fill the entire class with physical exercise — sit ups, push ups and something we call inch worm. Those take up about 10 minutes of the class and then we go into our planned lesson for the day. I have each class for about 45 minutes total,” Todd said.

Students seemed particularly excited about Thursday’s lesson plan, which was kickball. Every student was on their feet, running for the bases, jumping for the ball, throwing, catching and kicking.

Beads of sweat covered fourth-grader Ian Selman’s face but at the same time he had fun, he said.

We make lesson plans and every two weeks we change it up and do something different,” Todd said. “They get a lot of variety — cardio, strength, you name it.”

When the weather is warmer, Todd said the kids will go outside and each class has their own plot in a garden where they grow broccoli, carrots, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, greens and other vegetables.

“A lot of thanks for our gardening program is owed to My Brother’s Keeper and the Master Gardeners who brought us the salad tables and the planters,” Todd said.

Students also receive healthy rewards as an incentive for doing well in school, Coach Lacie Johnson said.

“Our fourth and fifth-grade students will be going to a tri-school flag football tournament in March with Joseph Frazier, Susie B. West, and Gilmer McLaurin Elementary,” Johnson said. “It’s something we do to promote positive behavior.”

When the school applied for the Healthy School Award from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi for the last two school years, Todd said he and Johnson supplied documentation and photos to show what the school had been working on to promote healthy lifestyles for their students and staff members.

“We gave them information from at least the past two years about our garden, our nutrition plan, our no tobacco policy and just a bunch of things that had to be done according to their guidelines,” Todd said.

When McLaurin didn’t win last school year, the school administration, staff and coaches upped their game by creating health challenges for teachers and students, Johnson said.

Kindergarten through 12th-grade schools statewide could enter the contest for the Healthy School Award in three different categories based on the number of students they have. A school was awarded a $25,000 prize in each category to enhance their wellness programs while only won school, McLaurin, was chosen for the grand prize of $50,000 for Mississippi’s healthiest school.

McLaurin Principal Britaney Cheatham said Wednesday that the prize money would be used to purchase playground equipment, workout equipment and possibly a shaded pavilion to block the sun on the school’s playground area.

Other winners of the Healthy School Awards announced Wednesday include DeLisle Elementary School of Pass Christian School District, Moselle Elementary School of Jones County School District and St. Martin High School of Jackson County School District.

Johnson said Blue Cross & Blue Shield is also sponsoring a marathon called “Get Ready to Run” that second through fifth-grade students will participate in Feb. 22 in Jackson.

“None of this would be possible without student involvement and our administrators,” Todd said. “They gave us the flexibility and the support we needed to see this program through. They support us tremendously.”