“Fun” is a word that Byng Schools’ HealthCorps coordinator Mechel Dickerson uses repeatedly to describe activities her organization conducts to promote student awareness of the importance of physical activity, nutrition and mental resilience.
One such upcoming event Dickerson said will be fun and educational for Byng students is an “Around the World” health fair, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon April 25 in the Junior High School gymnasium.
“It’s a fun time,” Dickerson said.
Recently, a previous event combined fun and friendly competition between Byng and Latta schools as a way of highlighting the health benefits of drinking water rather than sugary beverages. A second goal was saving plastic because students were encouraged to keep refilling bottles rather than getting new ones.
Monitoring results was made possible due to special water fountains previously installed in both schools, with electronic counters that allowed the number of bottles consumed to be counted.
“It was funny how everyone got into it,” Dickerson said. “We drank so many bottles of water. I think our students drank more water in those three days than they probably have the entire year.”
The competition between Dickerson and Shelby Gibson, Latta School HealthCorps coordinator, got intense.
“We were texting each other,” Dickerson said. “We were messing with each other back and forth. It was so funny. It was a fun three days.”
The final score was Latta 430 bottles, Byng 419 bottles. Dickerson said it was a good experience in a losing cause.
“It was really fun for both schools. We lost by 11 bottles! I’m very competitive, and I didn’t want to make the announcement that we came up short,” she said, laughing.
“No matter who won, we drank a lot of water; so it was a positive result.”
HealthCorps is a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and attending physician at New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center. Its goals are to “make students happier and more productive by giving them everyday skills in nutrition, fitness and mental resilience.”
The Chickasaw Nation currently sponsors HealthCorps programs in public schools in Byng, Latta, Tishomingo, Davis and Kingston.
Teachers also benefit from Dickerson’s efforts.
“Last year we did a pretty basic step challenge with teachers where they got pedometers over a few weeks in which we tracked their number of steps,” she said. “This year I want to do something different that will incorporate all three of HealthCorps’ pillars of wellness – physical activity, nutrition and mental resilience.”
Dickerson admits she has not always been the extrovert she is now.
“I used to be the shyest kid,” she said. “I’ve come out of my shell in adulthood and am much more comfortable with myself today.”
She says she sees a marked difference between the emotional stress level of today’s youth, compared to that of her own high school days less than a decade ago. Much of it has to do with social media.
“Students often gauge their self-worth on their Instagram or social media following. Being a girl myself, I know how easy it is to compare yourself to others and how important it is to hear people remind you that you’re fine the way you are now.
“It’s too easy to get sucked into the negative and what people say about you.”
Dickerson tells students to see themselves from a different perspective.
“I tell them, ‘Say one positive thing about yourself right now.’”
That she was able to make the transition from timidity to confidence gives her insight into counseling students on how to fight back against feelings of negative self-worth.
“People are going to think whatever they think, so you just be you. You are created how you are supposed to be,” she advises.