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Hawkins grant intended to reduce student obesity, improve test scores

Jeff Bobo • Aug 6, 2018 at 9:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — A state nutrition, fitness and health grant awarded to Hawkins County Schools last week is intended to help improve fitness and health by reducing the student obesity rate, which is currently above the state average.

Hawkins County was among 10 Tennessee schools named Friday by the Tennessee Department of Education as recipients of the grant, which has an ultimate goal of improving student overall academic performance by improving health and fitness.

How much was Hawkins County awarded?

The award for Hawkins County is $12,500 each year for the next five years.

Coordinated school health director Erika Phillips told the Times News these funds will be used to help implement strategies and programs that align with the three key grant components of physical activity/physical education, nutrition, and management of chronic health conditions.

The specific use for the funds has yet to be determined.

"We will be meeting with the TDOE’s grant project coordinator within the next few weeks," Phillips said. "At that time, details will be provided regarding grant spending guidelines. Based on those specifications, we will then create a plan for utilizing grant funds based on our local needs.”

She added, "When the Tennessee Department of Education extended the invitation for Hawkins County Schools to participate in this grant opportunity, we immediately accepted. We are so pleased that funding was received and look forward to initiating implementation."

Hawkins obesity more that 5 percent above state average

In Tennessee, more than 39 percent of school-aged children are overweight or obese, and overall Tennessee currently has the highest childhood obesity rate in the nation.

In Hawkins County, that percentage was 44.6 percent in 2016-17, well above the state average.

Hawkins County Schools are improving, however, having reduced the student obesity rate steadily over the past decade from its high water mark of 47.6 percent in 2007-08

This grant is part of a statewide program being funded by a $4.3 million federal grant, and several diet and fitness programs will be implemented statewide.

However, Hawkins County was selected among 10 "priority" school systems statewide for particular focus based on their high percentage of overweight or obese students, economically disadvantaged status, percentage of students with chronic health conditions and access to physical activity programs.

The other nine counties are: Crockett County Schools (47.9%), Lauderdale County Schools (43.9%), Weakley County Schools (44.6%), Maury County Schools (41.7%), Wayne County Schools (44.8%), Rutherford County Schools (40.3%), Trousdale County Schools (57%), Monroe County Schools (47.5%), and Grainger County schools (50%).

What can they do with the funding?

The efforts supported by the grants will focus on these three strategies:

Infrastructure development: The department will develop strategies and best practices to increase awareness and promote evidence-based policies on school-based health education, physical education/physical activity, healthy eating, and management of chronic health conditions.

Professional development and training: The department will design professional development and training opportunities on establishing systems for the management and support of students with chronic health conditions.

Technical assistance: Through a partnership with the department of health, the department will provide statewide and district technical assistance through professional development and training, on-site visits, online learning, and additional methods as needed.

In a press release issued on Friday, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen noted research shows that children who eat more nutritious meals and are more physically active perform better in the classroom.

“We know that a student’s health and academic performance are closely linked, so we are excited to provide more of our students the opportunity to continue to grow and learn while benefiting their physical health,” said McQueen. “These grants will allow us to provide resources to our districts and schools to further the well-being of all Tennessee children.”

Tennessee’s best and worst student obesity counties

In a study compiled for the 2016-17 school year, the overweight/obesity prevalence rate varied by county, ranging from 23.8 percent in Williamson County to 59.4 percent in Henderson County.

The five counties with the highest overweight/obesity prevalence for the 2016-17 school year were Henderson (59.4%), Trousdale (57.0%), Fayette (54.6%), Hancock (51.4%), and Grainger (50.0%).

The five counties with the lowest overweight/obesity prevalence for the 2016-17 school year were Williamson (23.8%), Perry (29.6%), Knox (30.3%), Hamilton (33.1%), Cheatham (34.3%) and Sevier (34.3%).

Why was Hawkins County picked?

“The three chronic health conditions that the TDOE evaluated statewide when writing the grant application were asthma, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and severe allergies,” Phillips said. “Research shows that students who are better able to manage chronic health conditions have better academic outcomes and reduced rates of absenteeism. Hawkins County Schools meets or exceeds all state and local guidelines for providing physical activity.”

Phillips added, “At the same time, this grant is designed to reach into rural communities to provide additional outlets for physical activity and overall health improvement. We look forward to exploring these opportunities through the implementation of the grant.”

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