October 2, 2019
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Jenna Stitzel spearheaded a collaborative effort between Oakland High School and Small World Yoga for a pilot program that brought yoga into Rutherford County Schools for the first time.
Stitzel is in her 10th year with Rutherford County. She started as the Coordinated School Health Assistant in 2010 and was promoted to Supervisor in 2011.
“The students displayed a high interest and really were exposed to a great amount of mental focus and physical activity setting them up for a lifetime wellness opportunity,” said Stitzel, who originally graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in concrete management (2005) before earning a master’s in sports management (2009).
“It would be amazing if we could reach more students county wide.”
The yoga program, led by Leah Friend, will return to Oakland — the first school in Rutherford County to engage in the initiative — October 3, 16 and 24.
Stitzel, who has experience as a personal trainer, wellness coach, grant writer and administrator for a fitness facility before coming to Rutherford County Schools,and Friend would like to expand the yoga program to all high schools in the district.
RCS:Where did the idea of the yoga program originate? How did this come about?
JS:Leah Friend of Small World Yoga called me to set up a meeting. Small World was already working in (Nashville) Metro Schools and wanted to expand to Rutherford (County Schools). I was interested because high school students are required by law to receive 90 minutes of physical activity each week. This requirement is hard to meet, and yoga seemed like a great solution. We both knew that the (physical education) teacher, Kaitlyn Thornton, at Oakland High School already had interest in starting a program with her students. With the principal’s approval, we set the schedule.
RCS:The pilot program is taking place at Oakland High School. Any plans for other schools?
JS: Yes. I would love to have this program in every high school. We are already in talks with Central Magnet.
RCS:Explain what a Coordinated School Health Supervisor is and what your daily role is?
JS: Coordinated School Health exists to eliminate barriers to learning and improve students’ health and capacity to learn through support of families, communities and schools working together. It’s hard to sum up my daily role. The health screenings are a very important component. That is how we identify the health barriers facing our students. Andrea Burton is instrumental in the scheduling and organization of all the health screenings. We screened over 14,000 during the 2018-2019 school year. Once screenings are complete, the state office of Coordinated School Health requires reports and spreadsheets so we can track and report data to our legislators. Andrea enters every single piece of student data then I can double check our numbers and create health report cards for all students needing a referral. In addition to health screenings, I am the liaison between the (Rutherford County Board of Education) and the Department of Education in areas of physical activity and physical education. I must make sure our teachers and staff are aware of legislative updates in these areas. I serve on the Rutherford County Wellness Council, help to coordinate abstinence based trainings in our schools, write grants for funding to provide walking tracks, water filter stations and physical education/physical activity equipment to our schools, oversee Healthy School Teams and the completion of the School Health Index, provide health promoting materials to our school cafeterias, organize in-service opportunities for physical education and health teachers, set up community partnerships to offer services such as dental screenings, healthy cooking classes and vision screenings through the Lion’s Club. CSH provides blood pressure machines, scales and stadiometers to our school nurses. We also cover organization membership fees and cover conference costs for school nurses, counselors and (physical education) teachers.
RCS:Where did your passion for helping to improve the overall health of school-aged children come from?
JS: I saw the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles at a young age and have just always loved fitness and sports. I enjoyed studying concrete (management) at MTSU, but wasn’t in a field I was really passionate about. That’s why I quit my NRMCA job and went back to school for Sport Management. Every class was interesting because I loved the topic, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted knowledge I could share with others to improve their quality of life and enjoyment of life.
RCS:In general, is the health among children in school better than it was 10 or 25 years ago? And what more can be done to keep improving?
JS: Yes, during my 10 years in this job, our overweight/obesity percentage has declined as well as the number of blood pressure referrals we are sending home. Our students are receiving more physical activity at school than ever before and being taught (physical education) and health by our awesome teachers. Our cafeteria staff are promoting healthy food choices and all our students have access to a school nurse. To keep improving we need health education incorporated everywhere. Teachers and parents can talk about exercise and healthy eating habits in any lesson plan or any life situation. We want our students to be equipped with the knowledge to make a healthy choice when they are on their own.