2017 Healthy School Hero: Carrie Coyner - Action for Healthy Kids
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2017 Healthy School Hero: Carrie Coyner

School Board Member, Bermuda Magisterial District
Vice President of Programs, Elizabeth Scott Elementary School PTA

There’s busy, and then there’s busy. Carrie Coyner falls into the latter category.

Coyner is a wife and mother of three, as well as an attorney who runs her own small law firm. She’s also a PTA volunteer; choir director at church; and an elected school board member for Bermuda Magisterial District in Chesterfield County, Virginia, where she lives with her family. In her spare time, she teaches 5:45 a.m. group exercise classes at the local YMCA.

If you’re wondering how in the world she does it all without losing her sanity, you’re not alone: Coyner says she gets that question from people all the time.

Her answer: “The power of a healthy lifestyle.”

Coyner strives to eat healthy and has always exercised on a daily basis because it helps her focus, reduce stress, and start her day on a positive note. She credits her mother, who modeled health and wellness for Coyner and her sisters growing up, for helping her form healthy habits at a young age. Her experience also shaped her belief that by teaching children to lead a healthy lifestyle, fewer adults will suffer from heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses in the future.

In addition to leveraging her position on the School Board to prioritize student health and wellness, Coyner has spent the last six years volunteering on the Elizabeth Scott Elementary School PTA to, in her words, “bring about a culture shift in public education where wellness is woven into all aspects of our school climate.” She has worked with nonprofits, school staff and PTA members to start a wellness committee, develop a school learning garden, provide playground equipment, organize a family field day and healthy family festival, and celebrate Fruit & Veggie Week with taste tests, among other activities. She also recruited before- and after-school volunteers to teach yoga, dance, running and soccer to help kids get their 60 minutes of physical activity each school day.

Another focus of the wellness committee has been to replace fundraisers and other events centered around candy and junk food with fun runs, a 5K, field day events, game nights and other activities that families can participate in together. The 5K, which is now in its sixth year, brings together about 2,000 people in the community to celebrate health and wellness.

“Our students train together to prepare for the event, and it’s always so much fun to watch the smiles on their faces when they cross the finish line,” Coyner says. “We took a risk in the first year of this event by canceling our spring fundraiser of candy and replacing it with the 5K, and it paid off!”

The committee’s current project is to tie the research in the book Brain Rules by John Medina to the school’s wellness and academic goals for the 2017-2018 school year. They’re encouraging all teachers and parents to read the book, and the PTA program to focus on the rules.

“We want everyone in our community to [understand] why exercise, sleep, reduced stress, sensory integration (movement!), music, and other brain rules are so critical to academics,” Coyner says. “We believe if we can help everyone understand the connections between health/wellness and academic success, we will increase learning. We want families to know the ‘why’ behind our wellness culture at school.”