Schools emphasis total wellness over specialization

If images of gym class dodge ball and mandatory physical fitness tests make you cringe, there’s good news. Schools are increasingly moving away from the weekly gym class model to incorporate broader fitness initiatives that promote overall health and wellness.

Training children to live a healthy lifestyle, including diet, exercise and emotional health, is much easier than trying to train adults who may have been developing poor habits for decades. And with 14 percent of high school students already classified as obese, it’s an opportune time for schools to step in and model healthy behavior.

At Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville, students have some kind of physical education multiple times a week, said Steve Mandell, head of school.

In the lower school, students can try gymnastics, which is great for large muscle development, he said. They also participate in a cup stacking game to build that mind-to-body connection.

It’s about the entire student, not just a once-a-week gym class. For example, the school is focused on emotional development for its high school seniors to help them make a smooth transition to college.

Even non-traditional forms of physical activity are encouraged, such as gardening. Katie Stagliano, a student at Pinewood and the founder of Katie’s Krops, operates her flagship garden at the school. Students can participate in the garden, getting exercise while learning about healthy eating and ultimately growing vegetables to feed those in need.

Mandell said the school believes in variety. “It’s important when kids are young that they do and try as many things as possible,” he said.

For student athletes, that translates into cross training, which ultimately makes them better athletes.

“We want our kids to do as many different sports as possible,” Mandell said. “We don't encourage over specialization even at the high school level. Cross training and multiple sports makes them better.”

Another independent school, Ashley Hall, an all-girls school in downtown Charleston, is also focused on overall wellness and a program that emphasizes lifelong fitness. The school offers intramural team sports, including archery, volleyball and lacrosse, all the while giving girls the change to develop healthy habits and the ability to collaborate with others.

“It’s all about balance,” Mandell said. “There’s a skill component in everything. What are the skills associated with that sport?”


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