In an effort to improve the overall health and wellness of students in the area, Healthy Dent County, with the help of grant funding, is providing programs, tools and equipment to area schools so that students have the chance to be fit, healthy and active.

One of the efforts, a new program called “Tiger Nation,” is an after-school exercise program that makes working out fun and interactive for Salem students.

“I’m just really excited about this program and to see these kids develop from what they started out as,” said Melissa DuBois, District Wellness Coordinator for Healthy Dent County. DuBois acts as the conductor of activities for the students, engaging them in group exercises and workouts that are both fun and challenging to their bodies. The program has been active for less than a month with an average of 50 students attending each session.

DuBois gives credit for the programs beginning to the use of grant funding that Healthy Dent County applied for through various health-centric organizations, including the Missouri Foundation for Health.

“MFH has always been aware of these issues, and with our community making really great strides for a healthier community, they offer us grant funding for improvements,” DuBois said. “We were one of the first out of 13 schools who did the program.”

DuBois stated that one of the biggest challenges in being awarded the grant was to seek some innovation in their program, something that MFH stated was necessary.

“Being a rural community, that’s pretty challenging because we don’t have the opportunities that larger cities have,” DuBois said. “We don’t have after-school programing, we don’t have busses to take kids home after school from extracurricular activities, we don’t have a YMCA.”

DuBois also spoke about the difficulties of having enough staff to care for 50 to 100 children at a time during an after-school program, a task that has so far been managed with the assistance of teachers and other staff of the schools.

“The whole objective of the grant funding was to impact our students in a healthy way, create a healthier environment and make healthier choices, but on paper it was to have a reduction of (Body-Mass Index) by five percent,” said DuBois.

Healthy Dent County is also in the process of applying for additional grants to supplement the MFH grant, including a grant that will provide snacks for students during the time of the program.

It has been asked that families pay $5 a week for the program to help the program along after the grant funding has ended, something DuBois stated is inexpensive for most families compared to after-school care or other activities. This could push Tiger Nation for many years past their grant.

When Healthy Dent County’s Sherry Lea applied for the grant, Dubois stated they believed it was unlikely they would even receive the funding due to a lack of understanding of how desperately the area needed the activities.

“We were just so thankful and blown away to receive it,” DuBois said. “And (the schools) have just been so gracious in working with us and making sure this goes well for the kids.”

In addition to the Tiger Nation program are multiple obstacle courses that have found their way onto the grounds of schools across the area. The courses, which include tests for upper body strength, lower body strength, agility and endurance, condition students to a variety of physical skills over time with the guidance of teachers and coaches.

“The (obstacle courses) stemmed from J.C. Flores, who is assistant principal out at Northwood,” DuBois said. “(Flores) is very health conscious, and he started an after-school program there called Panther Elite. Then we received a Healthy Schools, Healthy Community grant for them, and even though the program had already started, this gave them some other options.”

The additional funding introduced the ideas of a breakfast for participants so they did not need to worry about skipping a meal to participate, as well as the purchase of new equipment the students could use. The grant also allowed the installation of the first obstacle course in the area, which DuBois stated was the brainchild of Flores.

“He designed the whole thing and oversaw the construction and put it together and built it,” DuBois said. “This means they had their morning workout, and now this awesome obstacle course which we could use as an example for other grants.”

The program quickly spread through the faculties of county schools, so now North Wood, Upper Elementary, Salem Middle School and Oak Hill R-I each have their own course. This gives a chance for students of the schools to actually compete against one another in an annual Dent County Elite Day, the second of which was held in May this year.

“It’s a lot of fun to see these kids interacting and having fun,” DuBois said. “We can work on whole-body strength and make it fun so the kids don’t really think of it as working out. It’s going to be hard for some people, but we are going to try, and we are going to learn and we are going to improve. It’s a process, but we are getting there.”

Construction continues on the Upper Elementary course, and most recently Dent-Phelps R-III has shown interest in creating an obstacle course as well. 

“I’m just really excited about this program and to see these kids develop from where they started out,” Dubois said.

For more information on Healthy Dent County and the programs they offer contact (573) 729-8163.