The Starkville Oktibbeha School District was awarded a $900,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Mississippi to support the District’s overarching goal to create school environments that emphasize healthy living.
The entire $900,000 will be used to implement the Wellness Incentive for Starkville Partnerships (WISP) project, a comprehensive school health and wellness program, at the Partnership School.
“Our school district has identified health and wellness as one of our eight core beliefs, and we’ve set a goal to promote health and wellness as an essential component of the District’s culture of excellence,” said SOCSD Supt. Eddie Peasant. “The WISP project demonstrates how health and wellness can blend into the school environment to support learning.”
The state of the art school, under construction on the campus of Mississippi State University, is scheduled to welcome students for the 2020-2021 school year. The school will house the district’s sixth and seventh grade students and serve as a training lab for preservice teachers.
“The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation’s experience in working with schools through the Healthy School Awards Program, school garden programs, and the Project Fit America Program is the basis for a wellness initiative at the Partnership School supported by Foundation grant funds,” said Sheila Grogan, Foundation President. “The goal is to build a successful, sustainable model school for healthy living with elements that the Foundation can implement in other Mississippi schools.”
The initiative includes multiple school gardens and mobile kitchens allowing students opportunities to participate in meaningful, hands-on experiences, including planting, harvesting, cooking and tasting opportunities. A GrOW (Gardening and Overall Wellness) classroom will introduce all sixth-graders to nutrition, gardening, wellness activities and healthy behaviors. Seventh-graders will have their own classroom “garden pod” that will be incorporated into academic subjects such as science, math and language arts. The initiative also includes plans for a greenhouse, school farmers’ market, family cooking nights and fitness classes.
“When developing project goals, it was important to define how students could practice 21st century skills such as creativity and collaboration while simultaneously learning life skills like gardening and food preparation, and the GrOW classroom perfectly combines both for an engaging educational experience,” said Brandi Burton, Director of Educational Enhancement and Innovative Research for SOCSD.
The initiative also builds on the district’s unique partnership with Mississippi State University, combining university and school district resources to enhance students’ overall education experiences.
"MSU faculty from multiple departments will assist with the design and implementation of school gardens, GrOW curriculum and wellness activities while preservice teachers will have opportunities to learn about the benefits of school gardening and see the impact of health and wellness education,” said Devon Brenner, Special Assistant to the Vice President for Education Initiatives.
Other components of the initiative include staff wellness programs, positive behavior interventions and mental health support.