School: A Place to Learn, Play & Get Healthy
Good things are happening in Halifax County. Recognizing the strength of the area’s educators, school administrators, community leaders, health care providers and recreation advocates, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust selected Halifax County among the first locations to launch its statewide, county-by-county “Healthy Places North Carolina” investments.
Healthy Places NC is investing in schools where administrators, educators, parents and students believe that schools are the perfect place to jumpstart community-led efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of children and families.
In each county, Healthy Places grant-making is driven by community-voiced concerns and ideas as well as the Trust’s assessment of the opportunity for sustainable, long-term change.
Working Together to Improve Community Health
Halifax County is home to three school districts where administrators, educators and parents recognize the need to improve the health of students. For the first time, Halifax County Schools, Roanoke Rapids Graded School District and the Weldon City Schools are working together to build relationships that will benefit the schools and surrounding communities. School leaders and administrators are discussing their challenges, successes and differences, as well as how schools can support efforts to improve community health.
Thanks to support from the Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative and the School Health Network supported by NC Child, the three school districts are finding innovative ways to help students and families lead healthier lives. These efforts include educating students about healthier eating, improving access to health care, and building new or improved playgrounds, walking trails, workout rooms and other recreational facilities.
“The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust simultaneously investing in three Halifax County school districts is tremendous. Connecting us all through our students and communities builds sustainable relationships in a much larger and more powerful way than isolated pockets of help could ever achieve.” — Cynthia Byrd, Principal, Weldon Middle School
And while new playgrounds may be the first and most visible investments, collaboration among districts and administrators to improve student health is an incalculable sign of real change.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Living
The Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, which serves more than 3,000 students at four schools, recognized long ago that its playgrounds were among the community’s few recreational facilities. As a result, the school board worked with the city to develop Halifax County’s first shared-use agreement, giving community residents access to playgrounds and gyms after school and on weekends. The success of this shared use agreement is being replicated across the county.
“We’ve learned that opening our gyms and other facilities gives the community a real sense of pride and ownership. There are struggles in shared use, but the rewards truly outweigh the risks.” — Douglas Miller, Director of Maintenance and Transportation, Roanoke Rapids Graded School District
Roanoke Rapids is also taking steps to encourage its students to eat healthier foods.
“The foods we eat are part of our family history and, in some cases, we are working to overcome century-old cooking traditions that are no longer part of a healthy lifestyle. We are educating our students about the benefits of healthy eating and introducing kids to new foods. But it’s absolutely necessary to get parents involved.” — Michelle Puckett, Director of School Nutrition Services, Roanoke Rapids Graded School District
With support from the Trust, Roanoke Rapids is now home to a new walking trail at Belmont Elementary School, an upgraded playground at Manning Elementary, and improvements to Chaloner Middle School’s gym for use by the school, as well as the Roanoke Rapids Parks and Recreation Department. These improvements complement the ongoing work of the District’s parent-teacher associations.
Encouraging Healthier Lifestyles
The Weldon City Schools, with four schools and 1,100 students, serves some of Halifax County’s most underserved children and families. To address students’ lack of access to preventative health care services, the district recently partnered with Rural Health Group to establish the county’s first School-Based Health Center with support from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.
The district is building on the success of that effort by adding outdoor fitness equipment to an elementary school playground and a cardio fitness room in the middle school’s gym. The district is also developing a joint-use agreement for the surrounding community.
“Healthy Places gives our school community access to recreation and allows families the opportunity to enjoy resources close to home. This investment encourages healthier activities and produces healthier students who attend school regularly and achieve academically.” — Terry Alston, Federal Programs/Parent Involvement Director, Weldon City Schools
Providing Places to Play
Halifax County Schools is the largest of the county’s three school systems, with 11 schools and approximately 3,660 students. Administrators and parents are addressing a lack of opportunities for exercise and healthy play at its seven low-income elementary schools and two middle schools. Projects include improving and adding playground equipment and developing new walking tracks and outdoor fitness areas, including basketball courts, mobile volleyball equipment, tennis courts and mobile soccer equipment.
“Safer playgrounds and new exercise equipment will make getting fit and healthy more enjoyable for kids—and parents—in Halifax County. New facilities will bring families and their neighbors back to school at night and on weekends, giving folks another reason to be proud of their local school.” — Gavin Coombs, former Community Transformation Catalyst for Halifax County, North Carolina Public Health Foundation
Places to Play
Roanoke Rapids Graded School District: 2,000 students
New or Improved Playgrounds/Facilities 3
Weldon City Schools: 1,100 students
New or Improved Playgrounds/Facilities 2
School-Based Health Centers 2
Halifax County Schools: 3,660 students
New or Improved Playgrounds/Facilities 9
54,173* Population of HALIFAX COUNTY
5 RECREATIONAL FACILITIES per 100,000** residents
*2011 census ** Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings. countyhealthrankings.org
An initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust