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Friendship is now a wellness school of choice
Nutrition also a concern
Friendship Elementary’s Sean Gibbons, 10, attempts to keep a hula hoop in motion for three minutes along with classmates during a Monday afternoon physical education class at the South Hall school.

Friendship Elementary School got a healthy endorsement from the Hall County Board of Education Monday night.

The school at 4450 Friendship Road in South Hall is now an official wellness school of choice, meaning that students from outside the Friendship attendance zone can attend the school and take part in its new emphasis.

"We're still going to teach reading, writing and arithmetic ... but we're trying to improve our academics through wellness," principal Berry Walton said after the meeting.

"A stronger body correlates to a stronger mind."

Related to that move, the Hall school board also approved a contract with UnitedHealth Group, a national health care company, to serve as a pilot system in a new wellness initiative to combat childhood obesity.

The contract runs through Dec. 31 but contains a renewal clause that would extend the partnership through June 1, 2012, unless either the school system or UnitedHealth objects within a certain time frame, said Gordon Higgins, school system spokesman.

"The money they're contributing right now is to increase the hours of school nurses," Walton said.

"That's first and foremost, so nurses can get involved with this wellness concept as well — not only in our school but in the entire system."

Friendship kicked off its health program in January.

"We have broken our day into thirds," Walton said. "We have activities in the morning, during the day and after school. ... Our goal is for our kids to be moving 60 minutes a day, from the time they get up to the time they go to bed."

The school has some "workout sessions" before school Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Also, "we have an exercise of the week, so sometime during the day, the teachers are to use that exercise in their classroom," Walton said.

"Our next goal is, starting in the fall, to have exercises in the afternoon, when I'd like to bring in karate, gymnastics and dance studios and provide after-school services in our building."

The school also is looking at nutritional concerns, although "we can't do a whole lot about our food services," Walton said. "I know that group is looking very closely into foods they offer and calorie intake.

"The big thing for us the paradigm shift — bringing in healthier snacks. What we're trying to get our parents to understand is ... bring a cupcake in but not with three inches of icing on it."

As far as whether to change the school's name - as many schools retooling their focus have done — "we're in the process of trying to figure out what we want to do," Walton said.

For now, the current name appears set.

"We want to get (the school of choice) up and going before we come out with another name," the principal said.