School district, MindStream could team up to help overweight students

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 15, 2013 

All my life, I have been an overweight child.

Every school year, walking from one side of school to the other gets harder and harder. This year is going to be even harder because my classes will be on the third floor. I don't know how I will make it.

This student is obese.

In this letter to the Beaufort County Board of Education, superintendent Jeffrey Moss and MindStream Academy in Bluffton, she is asking for help.

Her life depends on it, the letter says.

To answer her plea -- and help other students in the district who struggle with their weight -- MindStream Academy and the district are working on a potential partnership.

"If you look across our student population -- but even more than that, across the county, state and country -- we're growing, and sometimes not in the right way," Moss said. "So anything we can do to offset that outcome for our students and children is a positive thing."

MindStream is a small boarding school in Bluffton that focuses on helping students lose weight through classes on nutrition, regular workouts, gardening and other activities. After receiving the student's letter, Moss visited the academy in late August to start discussing a partnership.

Although still in the planning stages, the district and academy are working toward a Saturday program that would allow students to visit the campus once a week for about 12 weeks to receive a condensed version of the program it offers boarders.

The classes would include fitness activities and work with a trainer, meal planning, nutrition and dietary components, and education, said Sarah Stone, the academy's director of programs.

Working with the district would be the academy's first school partnership in the state, and Stone said that reaching students is paramount.

"We've really been hoping to do this partnership; we want our state to be the first to turn the tide in childhood obesity," Stone said. "It makes for a very powerful and unique possibility, and we're actually reaching the kids in need directly."

MindStream has partnered with schools outside the state before. Last year, 15 students from a school in Missouri came to Bluffton to participate in the full-time program. The academy also has spoken with school districts in Mississippi and Kentucky and state officials in Arkansas.

The academy could expand to other locations across the country, but it also wants to continue to partner with schools like the one in Missouri, and set up programs like the one it's working on in Beaufort County to reach students.

Stone said many logistical and funding matters still need to be worked out.

Moss said 20 students would participate in the program, but he doesn't yet know how the students would be chosen.

He said the cost -- which the district would pay -- would be about $600 per class, or about $7,000 for the 12 weeks. The cost of a four-month semester at MindStream is $28,500.

Moss will present the partnership to the Board of Education's Curriculum Committee and then to the full school board if it receives the committee's recommendation. If everything is approved, he said the program would likely start when the spring semester begins.

National health experts have praised the MindStream program for its success.

Even with a condensed program, Stone said it's a small step that could make a huge impact.

"The experience of one child has the ability to impact many others, like their friends and family," Stone said. "We are returning a child that is better able to realize their fullest potential, including academically, and we all benefit from that."

The student's letter echoed that sentiment.

I could learn the essential skills for proper health, but hopefully I can teach my family and friends also ... I just want to live happily and healthily.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content: Partnerships with school districts could be new norm at Bluffton weight-loss academy, September 15, 2012 www.islandpacket.com/2012/09/15/2212125/partnerships-with-school-districts.html Bluffton weight-loss program featured on NBC, January 11, 2013 www.islandpacket.com/2013/01/11/2338929/bluffton-weight-loss-program-featured.html

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