September traditionally has become the month that Bladen County focuses attention and efforts to enhancing and improving the School Health Program for Bladen County Schools. School nurses annually provide screenings for select grade levels during this important month to identify specific health concerns as an element of this annual month long celebration.
This year, Bladen HealthWatch and its partners are using School Health Month to inform Bladen County residents about the programs offered to enhance Bladen County's School Health Program and the issues that are currently affecting the health and well-being of Bladen County students.
One such program that enhances the health of Bladen County School's students is the HealthWatchers At School program sponsored by Bladen HealthWatch.
Bladen HealthWatchers At School program is preparing for its fourth year to have STAR POWER. The health promotions theme for the year, "Don't Be Eliminated: Reduce Chronic Disease Risks", is a spin of the current reality show craze. It is designed to encourage Bladen County students to strive to become HealthWatch Idols by showcasing their talents for developing healthy lifestyle behaviors.
The HealthWatchers At School program will place special attention on reduction of chronic disease risk factors and their links to preventative HealthWatch Idol behaviors, such as regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and avoiding the use of tobacco products.
In Bladen County, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are chronic diseases that account for many of Bladen's deaths each year, but in many cases, simple lifestyle changes can positively impact one's risk for these chronic diseases.
The HealthWatchers At School program of Bladen HealthWatch plans to include many of the same successful campaigns in this year's star studded schedule that have been provided in the three previous program years.
During the fall, Bladen HealthWatch will challenge Bladen County School's staff and students to showcase their walking talents to become the next WALKING IDOL during a two month physical activity campaign "WALK 2004: A Search For The Walking Idol". Students, staff, and classrooms will record their miles walked to achieve incentives for a star performance.
Last year students and staff logged over 75,000 miles during the two-month campaign, with over 700 students logging at least 25 miles. Therefore, Bladen HealthWatch expects a SUPERSTAR performance for this year's campaign, as well.
In addition, to the physical activity campaign, the nutrition campaign, March Madness will be back in the spring. A favorite highlight of this nutrition focused month is a "Gimme 5 Challenge" week in which students and staff are challenged to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
HealthWatchers At School will sponsor two tobacco prevention campaigns this year in Bladen County Schools. During November, a "Quit Cold Turkey" commit to quit campaign will encourage students and staff to make commitments to be tobacco free. Then, the Great American SmokeOut, a national health observance, will be celebrated in April 2005.
Other star strategies in the HealthWatchers At School plans for this year include working with Bladen County Schools' Child Nutrition program and Bladen County Health Department to implement Winner's Circle in the Schools, a school-based version of the familiar Winner's Circle dining program which promotes healthy dining options for restaurant patrons. Healthier choices will be available in school menus and cafeterias.
Additionally, Bladen County Schools' students who violate the schools discipline policy regarding tobacco products will be referred to after-school tobacco education programs conducted by the staff of the HealthWatchers At Schools program, Bladen County Health Department, and Bladen County Schools social workers.
The HealthWatchers At School Peer Encouragers, rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors at East Bladen and West Bladen High Schools, have been busy over the summer break learning their roles and becoming prepared for the coming year's HealthWatchers At School activities by participating in three intense training sessions.
Their role in the HealthWatchers At School program will be to model healthy behaviors and habits, such as proper nutrition, being physically active, and being tobacco-free for their peers and others in their communities as they promote and encourage participation in the various programs and campaigns undertaken by HealthWatchers At School during the school year.
Peer Encouragers at East Bladen are Ricci Kearney, Parrish Miminger, Britt Huggins, and Tanesha Munn. West Bladen Peer Encouragers are Martina Johnson, Wesley Clark, Shannon Cannon, and Danielle Baysden.
The Peer Encouragers are chosen by a school-based committee, based on criteria set forth by Bladen HealthWatch, which includes maintenance of a 2.5 grade point average, a clean discipline record, maturity, leadership skills, and possession of personal healthy behaviors.
Another high profile group in the HealthWatchers At School camp is the School Liaisons. They are staff persons from each school site chosen by the principal to serve as promoters of health education information between HealthWatchers At School and the school site staff, to assist other staff to reinforce health lifestyle behaviors, and to encourage student and staff participation in healthy lifestyle behaviors.
School Liaisons will participate in training sessions to prepare for the activities scheduled for their schools. The nomination process for this year's HealthWatchers At School Liaisons is currently in progress.
The HealthWatchers At School program enhances the School Health Program of Bladen County Schools especially in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco prevention education. Just as the program encourages students in Bladen County to develop healthier lifestyles throughout the school year, HealthWatch staffers encourage all of Bladen County to join in the celebration of school health this month by improving their own healthy behaviors and encouraging our Bladen County students to strive to be "HealthWatch Idols".
HealthWatchers At School is one of fifteen projects funded by Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust designed to lower chronic disease rates in low-income areas across North Carolina through an initiative called the SELF (Smoking, Education, Lifestyle, Fitness) Improvement Program. This Duke University Medical Center administered program targets populations at risk for chronic disease and seeks to prevent these diseases by educating groups about the dangers of tobacco use, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity.