Brockman Elementary: Creating a Culture of Wellness

brockman“Any of our families will tell you… they always feel welcome here,” explains Brockman Elementary School Principal Dr. Eunice Williams. One way this inviting attitude is apparent is through the school’s open community use of their outdoor recreational facilities. Due in part to its location within a residential neighborhood in Forest Acres, families and community members can easily access the school and often use the property in a variety of ways. The school has multiple playgrounds, a small track, and a softball field that are all available for use by families and neighbors. The playgrounds are gated and locked during the school day and while aftercare is in session for the safety of staff and students. However, the gates remain unlocked afterwards and until the last custodian leaves at 9:30 p.m. On Friday afternoons, the gates are intentionally left unlocked so that families are able to access the playgrounds all weekend. Brockman keeps families informed of this practice through communications such as the school’s biweekly newsletter.

A few steps were necessary before Brockman Elementary was able to open their outdoor facilities to the community outside of school hours. When Dr. Williams first started at Brockman three years ago, a number of updates were needed to make the property safer. These updates were possible thanks to strong parent involvement and fundraising through the school’s Parent Teacher Organization and Fine Arts Boosters. Dr. Williams points to open communication and strong relationships with parents and neighbors as a crucial aspect to making open community use a success. She believes open community use has helped make her school a safer environment for everyone by increasing community ownership of the property and pride for the school. Brockman Elementary has not experienced any problems with littering or vandalism as a result of allowing open community use. In order to avoid problems with property damage, Dr. Williams recommends that other schools that may be interested in allowing open community use work diligently to clearly communicate rules and expectations and establish an understanding of why those rules are in place.

Open community use is just one of many ways Brockman Elementary School illustrates that establishing a culture of wellness is a top priority. Rather than participating in traditional fundraising activities, such as selling cookie dough, Brockman participates in an annual FUNd RUN where students pledge to walk/run/move while gathering family and friends to sponsor their efforts. The school also hosts an afterschool running club called Bears on Track with over 40 runners and 10 coaches. Because of its efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle for their students, families and community, Brockman has been recognized with the National Healthy Schools Bronze Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for the past two years. Dr. Williams knows the value of having parents involved and engaged in order to teach why focusing on health is so important. She points to open community use as just another part of this parent education, saying, “I think it’s great to see our families on the playgrounds with our kids because I think it’s a bonding time, time spent away from an electronic device, time out in fresh air, and that’s exactly what we want. That’s a part of our parent education. Spend time with your children in a positive environment, and if it’s here, that’s fine.”

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is encouraging schools and districts to expand open community use statewide. Healthy Eating/Active Living coordinators from DHEC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity are providing assistance and guidance in an effort to convince schools across South Carolina to make their outdoor facilities available for public use to promote physical activity, healthy lifestyles, and stronger communities.

Elizabeth Gerndt

As the Healthy Eating/Active Living (HEAL) Coordinator with DHEC Midlands Public Health Region, Elizabeth works with communities to create environments that support healthy eating and active living. Elizabeth is an avid runner and has a Masters in Public Health from Rollins School of Public Health at Emory.

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