Fairfield Central High School: A partnership for community health

fairfieldHow does Fairfield Central High School make open community use of its outdoor facilities work? “It’s a partnership”, says Principal Tracie Swilley, “If we give back to the community in ways to show them how to be healthy, it’s going to better our community.” According to Principal Swilley, the outdoor track is used daily by community members as a place to walk, jog or run. Located off US-321 Bypass in Winnsboro, Fairfield Central is the only high school in the county. Principal Swilley credits the strong pride for the Griffins as the reason littering, property damage and vandalism have not been a problem. She has also found an open dialogue between the school and the community to be an important part in ensuring that open community use can be practiced in a way that is beneficial for everyone. Because Fairfield Central is located within a tight-knit community, information about open community use of the outdoor facilities is often spread through word of mouth. In addition, the school partners with local organizations for a number of community-wide events, such as Fairfield Behavioral Health Services’ Recovery Walk. These events help bring awareness to the existence of the track and field as well as strengthen the relationship between the school and the community.

The track is open for community use from dawn to dusk every day, unless it is being used for student activities. During school hours, users are simply asked to check in at the front desk. Location of the track is key. While there is a gate blocking entrance to the track and field from the front of the building, community members are able to access the facilities from the back side of the school. Principal Swilley believes that because the track is located behind the school, it serves as a safe, private place for people to exercise while avoiding the fear of judgment that is often associated with attending a gym.

Allowing the community access to the Fairfield Central track has been influential in giving the school a positive image in the community. Principal Swilley recommends open community use for schools that are trying to build community rapport. “I would encourage it, especially if it’s a small community like ours where the recreational facilities are limited,” she said. “If people are healthy, that means you have healthier citizens in the community, healthier people that can partner with you, and healthier people that are passing those lifestyles to the children you engage with every day.”

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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