July 2008

Great Strides: HH School for the Creative Arts is Walking on Sunshine

Author: Whitney Farmer

Seven hundred children march away dutifully in a processional, overseen by a giant cow, to the sounds of the ultra cheery “Walking on Sunshine.” That was the scene on the lawn at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts last month, when students, faculty and parents had a few milestones to celebrate.

On June 2, the student body is gathered around for an announcement. Principal Gretchen Keefner puts her right hand in the air. The wiggling crowd is immediately still.

“We only have a few more days of school left,” Mrs. Keefner preludes. Instead of the requisite cheers and squeals of excited elementary schoolers at this revelation, she is answered with obedient silence.

Keefner and her students are gathered to mark two important events for the school: the first, a project initiated by physical education teacher, Jackie Wheeler, who intended to get early arriving students up and moving.

“Today, we’re walking our final mile of the Walk One World walking club,” Wheeler explained.

What started as an idea to help keep early kids from just sitting in the lunchroom before classes soon escalated into a school-wide project. Intending to teach students about United States geography, Wheeler equated each mile that the children walked with a mile on the map, setting out in hopes of “crossing” the United States by the end of the year.

“I thought maybe 40 students would participate,” said Wheeler. “But before long, we were covering 175 miles a day.”

After covering the country in a matter of time, Wheeler saw an even bigger opportunity. Inspired by events chronicled in the book Worldwalker, the true story of three brothers in the 1970s who were the first men to circumnavigate the entire world on foot, she took her goal one step farther. Thanks to the help of sponsor AAA, Mrs. Wheeler’s simple walking club grew to a learning affair of global proportions.

When parental volunteer, Kelly Brock, saw her first-grade daughter’s enthusiasm for the club, she enlisted the help of her AAA manager, Boo Ring, to provide the school with world maps, ball globes, and other geography learning aids to take the club to the next level.

The trip around the world began in Portugal, and as the team covered more territory, they learned about each location’s culture and landmarks.

“They don’t realize they’re learning,” said Brock. “They’re having fun. They put a big map on the wall and the kids like to point out where they’ve been.”

On this day, the school only has one more mile to go before they complete their 14,450-mile journey by walking to Australia.

Principal Keefner addresses the students. “Who has participated in the walking club this year?”

Little hands shoot up all around.

“Who would be willing to walk to the high school so Mrs. Wheeler reaches her goal today?”

Now come the cheers and applause from enthusiastic students. But before they embark on their final hike, the school has one more highlight to chronicle. The crowd is standing on the very lawn where construction will soon begin on a new fitness trail. Two years in the making, the trail’s inception began in the fall of 2006 as the idea of PTA president, Phyllis Neville. It will consist of about a dozen centers where students can learn the cornerstones of fitness.

“The equipment gives kids instructions on specific tasks to perform for structured activities,” said PTA vice president, Wendy Methvin. “It’s not a playground. We already have one of those.”

The ceremonial first shovel is performed by the student council, representing the fact that, as a school, the student body raised $800—enough to pay for the first center on the trail.

The PTA raised $15,000 toward the goal, and parents and sponsors who donated were also there to help make the first digs.

Kim and Craig Molloy donated to the cause to give back to a school that will soon be educating all three of their young children. Mr. Molloy’s company, Carolina Cleaning, sponsored one of the centers.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” said Mrs. Molloy. “We have two kids here and our third will be here next year. We love the school and want to support it in any possible way.”

That sentiment of excitement and devotion is a common theme for everyone present on this big day, where the littlest students celebrate a year of many achievements. If you would like to support the Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts and be a part of its new fitness trail, set for completion this fall, contact the PTA Board at 342-4383.

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