Kershaw County students recently partnered with the LiveWell Kershaw Coalition (LWK) to take action towards leading healthy lives while encouraging others to do the same.
On April 13, LWK hosted Just Imagine It, a one-day workshop for high school students in Kershaw County to come together and create an action plan. During this workshop, students were taught to lead together and to lead from within to create key solutions that can be used to begin to transform the culture in their schools for healthy living.
“The biggest thing that I’m taking away from this is the inspiration that I see from all the servant leaders around me,” Matthew Rush, a student at Camden Military Academy said. “It’s not easy coming up in front of everybody and saying, ‘This is how we need to change,’ not ‘how we’re doing good’. It’s difficult to point out our flaws rather than where we’re succeeding. So, you all really inspired me with that.”
Before Just Imagine It, LWK held focus groups at each Kershaw County high school. During these meetings, LWK coalition members asked students about their definition of living a healthy life and how they thought their schools could improve. The information from these conversations was summarized and incorporated into the Just Imagine It workshop.
“The LiveWell Kershaw Coalition’s mission is to lead a collaborative effort in making Kershaw the healthiest county in South Carolina, and including students in this conversation is very important,” Kathryn Johnson, LWK director said. “For the first time since 1993, overall life expectancy has dropped — particularly among people younger than 65. Research attributes this to increased levels of obesity and other heart-related conditions. If we’re going to reverse this trend, it’s important for our county’s youth to be a part of that decision-making process.”
During Just Imagine It, students were challenged to determine one to two realistic actions that can be done by August to make each school healthier. They also heard presentations from The Honorable James Davis, Chief Magistrate for Kershaw County; Thoyd Warren, executive director at Sumter County Disabilities & Special Needs Board; and State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk.
“The most impactful thing I learned during Just Imagine It is the fact that students really just want to have a voice,” said Rose Montgomery, assistant principal at North Central High School. “They want to have a say in what happens in their school, in what happens in their community, and if you give them the opportunity to give feedback, usually they can figure out the answer.”
LWK will be following up with each high school to support the students’ in implementing their plans, Johnson said. A follow-up Just Imagine It event is planned for November and all students are encouraged to bring a friend to get involved.
Students also came up with ideas they said they want to start working on following the workshop.
Camden High students hope to focus on mental health by having a group meet during lunch to have a discussion on everyday problems and to just get to know more people.
“Today, I’ve learned that high schools from a lot of different places all want generally the same thing,” Sierra Fry, a sophomore at Camden High School said during Just Imagine It. “Mental health, more social situations where everybody feels included. It’s really been eye-opening how many people want more focus on mental health. It was really nice to be in this discussion.”
Camden Military Academy students plan to implement “On the Move,” a youth group that will be an outlet for students to seek advice or counsel. The group will be overseen by the chaplain and supported by the school’s foundation.
Lugoff-Elgin High students want to launch a social media campaign to connect with other schools and get people talking about health instead of gossip. They plan to create an Instagram account and become a resource for students to ask questions about healthy lifestyles.
North Central High School students plan to focus on education and support by creating a student-led organization concentrating on healthy living and seeking grants to get fresh produce in the school.
“We’re creating a student-led organization that allows students to come together and discuss ways to help make an impact,” said Bree Anderson, a senior from North Central High School. “We’re planning to introduce fresh fruit into the school by allowing students to get fresh fruit whenever they’re leaving and take it home. So, it would gain a new way for them to access fresh fruit and make a better choice.”
The LiveWell Kershaw Coalition is made up of local organizations, non-profits, schools, and businesses that seek to improve the health of Kershaw County. The coalition’s current priority is healthy lifestyles for youth. LWK believes that to create sustainable change in the community, the voice and vision of youth must be included in all phases of the journey.
LWK’s efforts are funded by The Duke Endowment through Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Kershaw County is also a SCALE 2.0 Community and a part of the 100 Million Healthier Lives campaign funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.