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Rita Howell Column

Rita Howell

Pogue’s vision benefits district

When the South Panola School District hired Lance Pogue in 2007 to be the head football coach at South Panola High School, few people might have realized at the time what a bonus this was for the school district. Not only did we acquire a championship-winning coach…we got his wife, too.

Dixie Pogue is a grant-writing machine. And for the past two years, Pope School has been the beneficiary of her efforts. A physical education teacher by training, Dixie has a broader vision for encouraging healthy lifestyles for students and staff. She’s expanded the Pope P.E. program to include archery and other activities to get the kids moving more. When the district’s budget wouldn’t stretch to include improvements she envisioned, she applied for grants.

A revamped campus walking trail now gets plenty of use by students and Pope residents.

Teachers and staff members are getting a first-class exercise and fitness room at school.

“It’s so important that the teachers and staff be healthy and happy,” Dixie said. “If the students see their teachers living a healthy lifestyle, they’re going to mimic that lifestyle.”

Even the school’s kitchen has had a healthy make-over. Gone are all deep fat fryers. They have been replaced by a state-of-the-art combination oven that uses steam and browning functions to produce tasty food that is crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, without the added fat that comes from frying.

These improvements and more have been made possible by a $130,000 grant from the Bower Foundation through its Coordinated School Health Program. Pope was among 10 Mississippi schools receiving the hefty award. A number of smaller grants have funded everything from mulch for the school garden to utensils to cut fruit in the cafeteria kitchen.

With the help of the University of Mississippi’s National Food Service Management Institute, Pope students are getting nutrition lessons each week. An Extension Service program offers similar lessons to the younger children.

With Pope School moving in a healthy direction, Dixie this year has been named South Panola School District Health Coordinator, a new position.

“I’m still at Pope,” she quickly explained to me, though she indeed serves the whole district now.

I’d been asked to serve on the Pope School Health Council, which met for the first time last Friday. I’d expected a handful of people. Instead, there were 28 of us gathered in the meeting room at the SP Parent Center.

There were parents, teachers, and other school staff members. Ricky Briscoe, the mayor of Pope, was there. So was Panola Extension Service director Judd Gentry. Nat Reece, the manager of the Batesville Wal-Mart, was there to accept a plaque for the store’s donations to the school garden.

Dixie has managed to get a lot of people interested in and excited about the prospects of improving the health of young people in the community.

In her new role as the district’s health coordinator, she plans to help other South Panola schools implement some of the ideas planted at Pope.

So look for staff exercise rooms and vegetable gardens coming soon to a campus near you.