HAZARD — One local school has made great strides toward a healthier life for its students, and students and representatives are now urging Congressman Hal Rogers to help do the same across the region.
Just a few years ago, Cordia School on Lotts Creek was like most schools, selling doughnuts, candy, cookies, and holding bake sales along with serving tasty but not always nutritious food in the cafeteria. Since receiving a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration and partnering with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Cordia has made strides in becoming a healthier school.
In 2011, the school hosted a weight-loss competition for the staff, who lost almost 700 pounds combined, they did this in conjunction with activities for the students like wellness fairs and field days. Basketball Coach Rodrick Rhodes has even started an after school program where students can meet him at the gym and stay active through basketball.
With help from the grant, Cordia has been able to change all of the food options in the school to fit within the guidelines set by the Alliance for Competitive Foods. This includes food in the vending machines and in a la cart lines during lunch.
At Cordia, 71 percent of its 240 students that are eligible for free or reduced lunch and breakfast, meaning that many of these students eat most of their meals at school. Having healthy breakfast, lunch, and snacks available to these students significantly improves their overall eating habits.
Through this same grant, Cordia was also able to open a state-of-the-art fitness center that is free and open to the public. According to Jeff Combs, director of the wellness program at Cordia, the school has had 700 people sign the waiver to use the fitness center, and they regularly have between 15 and 20 people using it each evening. The fitness center and the school’s commitment to health has begun to rub off on the community, members of which have begun using the path around the school as a walking track.
The group responsible for helping Cordia get healthy is now looking to help Congressman Hal Rogers get the rest of the schools in his district healthy. Pete Rafle, a representative for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, visited Rogers’ office in Hazard with two Cordia students and school representatives to discuss childhood health with Roger’s field representative, Pat Wooton.
“They are particularly concerned about the childhood obesity epidemic,” said Rafle about the foundation. “The foundation is the largest private foundation working exclusively on health and heath-related issues.”
Rafle wants to make Cordia’s health program a model for others that could start across the region. The goal of the organization is that by starting programs like this, they can help stop the high rates of childhood obesity.
“Trying to not just slow it down but reverse it by 2015,” said Rafle. “The foundation is investing something like $500,000,000" across the U.S.
Wooton said that he is going to try to set up a visit for Rogers to come to Cordia and check out the health program’s progress, along with its fitness center. He also said that Rogers is very interested in wellness and has been interested in possibly starting a wellness initiative in Eastern Kentucky.
“He has three big programs, PRIDE, UNITE and tourism, and we like to think we have had a good deal of positive impact across the congressional district,” said Wooton. “We will have challenges, but if he could snap his fingers today for a fourth it would be that of the general concept of wellness.”
Before Wooton was a representative for Hal Rogers, he was principal at Buckhorn School. He said that during his time as principal he noticed students becoming less and less healthy.
“It became increasingly apparent that too many of our students were too big, too young,” said Wooton. “There is probably not a good age to get too big, but it is a really bad flag if you are too big, too young.”
Cordia has received several awards for this program and Alice Whitaker, director of the Lotts Creek Community School at Cordia, is confident it can help other schools and other communities.
Cordia students also met with a representative from Sen. Rand Paul’s office this week as well.