MONDAY SPOTLIGHT: Sisters make healthy changes at schools

Sarah Chichester, left, and her twin sister Hannah, right, both 18, helped to initiate Skyline High School's Grab and Go breakfast program. The pair came up with the concept to give students an option for breakfast when they were short on time. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Twin sisters at Skyline High School are working to make their community healthier through tobacco and childhood obesity campaigns.

The Chichester sisters, Sarah and Hannah, both 18, have made a change in their lives and the lives of their classmates through the award-winning Y Street initiative of the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.

“It’s a program that kids can do outside of school to make a change in their community,” Hannah Chichester said, “to bring awareness about issues that affect our health.”

Sarah Chichester added that tobacco and childhood obesity were the two issues they felt they could tackle within their school after their training with Y Street. They began their educational campaigns during their freshman year at Skyline High School and have become part of Y Street’s leadership team.

They follow the four steps of public health policy: First they educate and collect data, second they analyze the data, third they educate with more in-depth information and fourth they reach out to policymakers to change policies.

Hannah Chichester said that for their obesity campaign, dubbed Rev Your Bev, they spent a lot of time educating students about the tooth decay, heart disease and other adverse health effects linked to sugar-sweetened beverages. The school now holds a Rev Your Bev Day in May where they speak with students about this issue.

They have also extended their efforts to teach healthy eating habits to the nearby middle school, she added.

Sarah Chichester said they were selected by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth to represent Y Street at the 2015 Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego, all expenses paid, where they spoke at the conference about the work they are doing.

The Chichesters are also working on expanding the school’s breakfast programs.

At the beginning of the school year, the breakfast line was open for only 15 minutes, Hannah Chichester said.

“I think breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she added. “There’s a lot of need for breakfast, but also a lot of problems with the breakfast program.”

This is when they introduced the Great Starts with Breakfast program, Sarah Chichester said. They began with surveys sent to the students asking when students ate, what they ate and how often they were hungry while in class. It gave a snapshot of breakfast trends in the school.

Hannah Chichester said the survey showed that many students arrived to school hungry and reported not having enough time to eat breakfast at home or at school.

Sarah Chichester added that they went to the county’s nutritional director in September 2015 and spoke with her about how to expand the breakfast program through alternative breakfast models and decided that Second Chance Breakfast was the best option for Skyline High School. This model offers breakfast between first and second period as a Grab and Go meal option.

The new program began this semester and sold about 25 more meals on the first day alone, increasing breakfast eating and profits at the school, she added.

Hannah Chichester added that she hopes to expand the Grab and Go meal option in the future by offering the meals on carts placed throughout the school.

She said they also extended the morning breakfast line from 7:45 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., giving students 30 minutes to eat and allowing more of them to take part in breakfast on wheat cinnamon bun day, a favorite among students.

During their tobacco campaign, Hannah Chichester said they educate students on the various forms tobacco comes in, such as chew, vape and cigarettes, and the effects each have on a person’s health and well-being.

Hannah Chichester said they are involved in the 24/7 campaign that works to make school campuses tobacco-free at all times with a 100 percent comprehensive policy in place that outlines exactly when and where smoking is banned, consequences for visitors who smoke on school property, support for those who want to quit smoking and adding bright signage around the school about the campaign.

The sisters went to the Warren County School Board during the last school year to discuss their campaign. In July, the board approved revisions to district-wide policies in the schools’ manuals. The new policies include bans on alternative nicotine products and smoking at outdoor school facilities.

Sarah Chichester said they will also spread their message during Tobacco-free Spirit Day, to be held on Feb. 15. She said every school in the county will set up a table display with information about the new policies, along with prizes.

“It’s a day to acknowledge and celebrate that we are 100 percent comprehensive,” she added.

The Chichesters say they hope their initiatives stick and continue to flourish at these schools after they graduate.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com