Laura Dean Bennett
February 14, 2017 was the day that the Home of the Warriors got serious about getting “Fed Up” with the national epidemic of unhealthful eating and its attendant increase in childhood obesity and other diseases.
Pocahontas County High School hosted the “Heart to Heart” event, a day dedicated to educating students about the risks of a lifestyle high in sugar and low on exercise, which included showing the documentary, Fed Up.
Spearheading the event was Pocahontas County Child Nutrition Director Lisa Dennison, who is Food Director of Pocahontas County schools and also teaches nutrition class and vocational education classes at PCHS.
Dennison, her fellow teachers, students and members of the community came together to make “Heart To Heart” a success.
Two students in particular, Emmet Doolittle and Lisa Dennison’s daughter, Killian, both freshmen at PCHS, were integral in bringing the Fed Up documentary to Po-cahontas County and organizing Heart to Heart Day.
The “Fed Up” movement is being introduced into our schools along with another statewide initiative, the “Smarter Lunchroom” program.
The Fed Up Conference held in Charleston in October 2016, brought together nutritional directors, wellness coordinators and interested public school students from schools around the state.
Among them were Lisa Dennison and five students from PCHS who went to learn how best to promote the cause of a healthy diet to their fellow students. Of those five, two have stuck with the effort, promoting the Fed Up movement to benefit the health of their fellow students in elementary, middle and high schools here in the county – and they’re looking for recruits.
What was so special about this film called Fed Up?
“I first saw the movie with my mom and right away I said, ‘everybody needs to see this,”’ Killian said. “We have to get this into every school. Everybody needs to know this stuff.”
Doolittle said Fed Up made a big impression on him, too, when he saw the film in middle school.
“It really lays out exactly why we have so many kids who are unhealthy and obese and why it’s not their fault,” he said. “There’s been a whole system of encouraging us to eat too much sugar, ever since we were born.
“Since I saw Fed Up I’ve learned a lot more about eating healthy, which is actually the most important thing we can do for our health. We have to limit our sugar intake, drink more water and balance our exercise and food intake. I’d like to see more kids get involved in the program.”
With a $5,000 grant, Dennison began helping Pocahontas County students be more aware of the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The grant stipulated that an action plan be devised for each school district receiving one of the $5,000 grants.
Pocahontas County’s action plan centered on screening Fed Up during a day of education about nutrition, exercise and living a healthy lifestyle, and the Heart To Heart day at PCHS was scheduled.
In an effort to encourage kids to drink water rather than soda or other sugary drinks, Dennison purchased fruit infusing machines that make fruit flavored water by adding fresh fruit – and the kids can use the machines themselves.
These fruit infusing machines were a big hit on Heart To Heart Day.
They are available for use by everyone in the lunch room at PCHS and Dennison hopes to soon have fruit infusing machines in every school lunchroom around the county.
She also purchased a reverse osmosis filter for one water fountain at the high school and hopes to add one for each school in Pocahontas County.
Killian and Doolittle also had a plan for Heart To Heart Day, in which one of their goals was not just to show Fed Up, but to increase membership in the Fed Up movement by adding at least five more students committed to promoting the cause.
As a result of the “Fed Up” showing, four more students signed up to be part of the movement at PCHS, so Killian and Emmet are on their way to accomplishing the first of many goals in their quest to make healthier kids a reality in Pocahontas County.
Heart To Heart Day started out with a jump rope marathon to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Abe Rittenhouse helped organize the “Jump Rope for Heart” marathon, which got the Heart to Heart day off to an energetic start.
“The day’s goal at PCHS was $999 from the jump rope marathon and it looks like we’re well on our way to making it happen,” Dennison said.
More than 100 “In Memory Of” and/or “In Honor Of” hearts were filled out by students and staff recognizing loved ones afflicted with heart disease. The hearts were then placed on the bulletin board in the front hall to remind everyone of the real cost of heart disease.
The stand-out contributor to the fundraiser was Kendel Ober, who donated $160.
Ober explained that working with the EMT squad has made him aware of so much tragic suffering.
So far students have collected nearly $400 and they are going to continue collecting until next Thursday.
The rest of the day was just as busy. The student body was divided into two main groups and each group watched a screening of Fed Up.
After the students watched the film, Kristin LeCroy, from the Wellness Center, spoke to them about the importance of regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.
LeCroy referred to her background in the military and her time in boot camp. She urged the students to eat healthy food, drink more water and get more active.
LeCroy urged the students to take advantage of the resources at the Wellness Center, where they can play basketball or use the gym and the weight room for $10 a month. And students are welcome to use the gym free of charge anytime school is not in session.
“We all have more nutritional information now,” LeCroy said. “We know how important it is for us to eat healthy. We can avoid obesity and diabetes by choosing a good diet. We all need to be healthy role models. After all, we all learn by doing and can lead by example.”
Students were then divided into smaller groups and rotated from one “station” to another. In each room a different take on healthful eating was presented by student leaders from a Wellness class or from Empowering Self and Others.
At each station, lessons were learned about how good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can change lives.
And some of those lessons were edible.
Irwin Berry made delicious fruit and veggie smoothies for everyone and explained the health benefits of choosing a fresh “real food” shake rather than a sugary snack.
Holly Cunningham’s class made posters depicting the benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, less screen time, more exercise and consuming less sugary drinks.
Teresa Mullen and her Pro Start students not only prepared a heart healthy meal – serving tuna and chicken wraps for the teacher and staff luncheon, but they also presented a health trivia game.
There was also an informative presentation by Susan Wilkins from Pocahontas Memorial Hospital during the luncheon.
And the cafeteria staff provided a special red dessert to celebrate the day.
At their station, Kathy White and Emma Sculthorpe discussed the causes of heart disease, offered blood pressure checks and students completed self-check risks of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease at their station.
At the Youth Health Services station, the subject was “How to De-Stress.” Everyone was given a mini “de-stress” heart ball.
Jenny Friel, RN, who teaches nutrition classes in the elementary and middle schools, had a station where she discussed heart health risks and how to best care for your heart, and her presentation included dramatic real life stories.
Tracey Valach talked about how to “Rethink Your Drink,” choosing water as opposed to soda and other sugary drinks. She provided delicious, freshly made fruit-infused water for the students.
“Wellness is my passion,” Lisa Dennison said. “After so many years in administration, it’s nice to be back in the classroom and the gym with the kids.” She teaches nutrition classes and a vocational class titled, Empowering Self and Others.
“It’s really hard to change an entire culture and our culture is just saturated with sugar, everywhere you look, it’s in almost everything that these kids eat! I encourage the kids to start out with first adding more water to their daily diet. If they would just replace soft drinks with water, it would make a great difference in their health.
“I know that today made a difference for these kids. And even if only one student changes his or her diet because of watching this film, it was worth it.”