Riverview’s Wellness Team Dedicated to the Whole Child

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

September 9, 2010

From left, The Riverview Wellness Team: Rachel Doerr, Tiffany Washington, Cathy Bridgers, Nell Hay, Lisa Van Horn and Lisa Ecklund

The Wellness Team at Riverview Charter School is dedicated to educating the whole child, remaining true to Riverview’s mission: to create a small, diverse learning community that actively engages students in meaningful and innovative learning experiences. Emphasizing “learning by doing,” family and community involvement, and engaged 
citizenship, Riverview is committed to nurturing the whole child and 
preparing each student for a global society.

Wellness is difficult to define, but it can easily be used to describe three distinct dimensions of self: the emotional, physical and social aspects of one’s well-being.

There are 5 members of the Wellness Team at Riverview Charter School who are committed to teaching students how to properly and safely take care of their bodies. Members include Executive Chef, Lisa Ecklund; Soux Chef, Rachel Doerr; Guidance Counselor, Nell Hay; Physical Education Teacher, Lisa Van Horn; and Nurses, Cathy Bridgers and Tiffany Washington.

Each member of the team brings the subject matter with which they are most knowledgeable to the classroom and “gives the students the information needed to make responsible choices and maintain a good sense of well-being throughout their life,” explains Van Horn.

The team teaches Wellness classes for grades Kindergarten through 6th Grade in addition to their daily duties. And, they cover each dimension of self-improvement.

The trend is common among innovative schools. In recent years, the media has raised concern over high-calorie, low nutrition lunches served to schoolchildren throughout the country. And now, school officials want to change that. Riverview has jumped on board.

Students enjoy Riverview’s Eco-Cuisine

Chefs Ecklund and Doerr want to excite kids about healthy foods.  They’ve developed a program, called Eco-Cuisine, which provides healthy, earth-friendly foods and education to students. It’s a movement backed by Michelle and President Obama, in fact.

They go into the classroom and educate the children about what makes a food healthier, what it does to our skin, our bones and our bodies. They elevate the importance of food and also encourage the “Farm to Table” movement. They teach the kids that fresh, local ingredients not only help the regional economy, but also taste better.

A typical school lunch travels 1500 miles before it reaches the table. Ecklund makes sure that her lunches include local items. For example, watermelons are perfect for picking right now in the Lowcountry. She personally goes to Barefoot Farms on St. Helena Island, picks the Watermelon and acknowledges on the chalkboard in the cafeteria that it only traveled 7 miles. “The children get a kick out of it and appreciate the proximity of the food,” explains Ecklund.

To also strengthen the school’s mission, Ecklund prepares dishes from around the world to encourage a global appreciation of food. She’s made Moroccan, Japanese and Italian meals to give the kids at Riverview a better understanding of cultural differences.

Riverview students also maintain an edible garden at the school. They’ve started an “Empty Bowl” mission that raises money for and awareness of world hunger.  They go to the Greene Street Soup Kitchen on the first Friday of each month and serve those less fortunate from food grown in Riverview’s garden.

The nurses are also encouraging healthy habits.  Eat Smart, Move More is a nationwide initiative to fight childhood obesity. Each class at Riverview walks 5 minutes per day and will do so for 12 weeks. At this time, teachers will track their mileage and pinpoint where they’ll be on a U.S. map. Their goal is to make it to Disneyland, California!

“It’s a lot of fun to see the kids get excited about making their bodies healthier. And, we hope to educate parents as well. Several illnesses, such as diabetes and asthma, can be better controlled by diet.  We’ll address our mission at our first curriculum night,” says Bridgers.

Of course, the school’s Guidance Department cares for the child’s emotional and social well-being. It’s evident that the entire Wellness Team has the ambition to create an environment that cares for the total child, mind and body.  And sometimes, the two go hand in hand.

For example, Riverview promotes “sweet free” celebrations and rewards. It’s been proven that removal of sweets from a child’s daily intake improves test scores and decreases bad behavior.  The initiative is also intended to move away from food conditioning that creates obesity and perpetuates many of our society’s health conditions.

Last year, Lisa Van Horn started a Cross Country team at Riverview, a sport that encourages frequent conditioning that kids (and adults) can do with no prior knowledge or skill ability and at low or no cost for equipment purchase. She had 17 students participate in 2009, and now has 27 fifth and sixth graders signed up.

This is yet another way Riverview dedicates itself to nurturing the whole child. Van Horn summed up the Wellness movement at Riverview for the entire team by saying, “I’m so thrilled that the kids are so interested and inquisitive about the program. We’ve only been executing the classes for three weeks, and already you can sense the excitement.”

Good job teachers! Your enthusiasm will spread. Your knowledge will permeate. Your commitment will encourage.  Thank you Lisa E., Rachel, Cathy, Tiffany, Nell and Lisa V. for radiating your passion during our interview. It was a pleasure to talk to each of you.

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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