Smyth County VA elementary students end year with new fitness event

United Way of Southwest Virginia and Smyth County Schools celebrate their lifetime fitness curriculum


Marion, VA (June 8, 2017) – One out of three children in Virginia is either overweight or obese, but a brand new project has been developed in Smyth County to combat the state-wide issue on a local level.

Health and physical education in Smyth County Virginia elementary schools now looks a bit different than before. Last year, $58,815 in funds from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) were awarded to United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Healthy Communities Action Team (HCAT) to develop a new curriculum for Smyth County elementary schools aimed at preventing and reducing childhood obesity through physical activity.

The partnership between United Way of Southwest Virginia’s HCAT program and Smyth County elementary schools created the curriculum called “Physical Fitness for a Lifetime. Teach It! Learn It! Live It!” The curriculum teaches elementary school students lifetime fitness activities such as biking, fishing, golf, disc golf, and swimming that they can continue long after they graduate from school. Because of the curriculum, nearly 2,200 elementary school students in Smyth County are now linked to physical activities and outings that align with Southwest Virginia’s abundant natural resources and recreational infrastructure.

George Owens, HCAT Manager for United Way of Southwest Virginia facilitates the teamwork between the HCAT and the Smyth County health and physical education (HPE) teachers and aides. He said, “The HPE teachers have gone through trainings in the sports this year, and we’ve provided gear to all seven elementary schools thanks to donations and partnerships. No school system in Southwest Virginia has anything like this, and that’s what I think is special. We call this curriculum the Smyth County model, and our dream is to take this to scale – to other counties in Southwest Virginia.”

On June 8, a celebratory outing was held for some of the fourth and fifth grade students who either began the new curriculum this Spring or will be introduced to the curriculum in the Fall. United Way of Southwest Virginia’s HCAT and the Smyth County Public Schools hosted around sixty students from various elementary schools for the special one-day event called the HCAT Summer Fitness Rodeo.

Fifth grade student Connor Murphy of Chilhowie said, “The event is helpful for fitness, but it also brings friendships closer and helps us make new friends. I made a new friend from Saltville today.”

During the event, students rotated through four of the five lifetime wellness activities – biking, fishing, golf, and disc golf.

Owens said, “What we do is provide activities for them when they’re young. They like to do it. They have fun – look out here today at the joy on their faces. We provide those activities so that they will eventually do those things for a lifetime. These are physical fitness activities that go beyond your regular school years.” For these lifetime activities, there is no team needed, and once the skill is learned, it’s easy to continue through adulthood.

The event also included a visual demonstration by Morrison Healthcare at Smyth County Community to show students just exactly how much sugar is contained in beverages popular with the group of students.

Fifth grade student Abbie Cregger of Sugar Grove said, “We learned how much sugar is in sugary drinks and how we shouldn’t drink them because they could cause a lot of health problems like diabetes, fatigue, and mood swings.”

Students loaded back onto the busses at the end of the event, tired but filled with excitement to participate in the activities during the next school year.

“This event is a celebration,” Owens said, “but it’s not the end of the program. This is the beginning.”

The curriculum will continue in Smyth County elementary schools through the 2017-2018 school year and is expected to outlive the grant cycle for many years to come.

United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit