Community School What's Happening

T.E. Mabry Middle School: Embracing physical and social growth for success

By Sandra Sessions
SC DHEC HEAL Coordinator

mabry_middle620T.E. Mabry Middle School of Spartanburg County School District 1, has a unique vision that considers physical and social growth to be necessary components of success for every student. The school participates in open community use, allowing the public to use the grounds and outdoor facilities of the school. Mabry Middle is at the center of Inman, SC, which makes it a convenient place for the public to use for their physical activity needs.

The school has shared responsibilities with Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation for maintenance; however, most of the grounds preservation is taken care of by the school. Unless the outdoor facilities are being used by the school or recreational district, they are always made available for the public to use. The local community is welcome to use the track, the Inman Trail, the practice fields, and other open spaces at their convenience. In fact, many walkers can be spotted taking advantage of the track and Inman Trail during school hours. Mabry Middle School often hosts community events on their grounds, including the Color Fun Run and Relay for Life, taking advantage of opportunities to showcase the outdoor facilities that are available at the school.

Mabry Middle School has found that opening their grounds for public use has fulfilled a need in the community. Some groups and families consider the school grounds the “core” of the community. Use of the school’s outdoor facilities provides a safe place for the community to exercise and play and has increased the opportunity for individuals to get outside. Although trash accumulation and vandalism are typical concerns associated with open community use, the people of the Mabry Middle School community have been respectful of the grounds. Assistant Principal Shelley Brown noted that there have been very few problems associated with trash accumulation or vandalism.

There were only a few issues brought up by Assistant Principal Brown associated with open community use. She mentioned that with the Inman Trail running through the school’s property, combined with the accessibility of the track and fields, parking can sometimes become an issue. Also, children have been known to jump the fence of restricted areas, like the football fields, so Assistant Principal Brown addressed the need for signage to deter the public from using certain restricted areas. In the past, individuals of the community have brought various needs related to the maintenance of the facilities to the school’s attention, such as weed over-growth and cracks in the pavement. The school takes care of these issues as time and budget allow. Due to potential problems associated with animal waste, no pets are allowed on school grounds. Lastly, only foot traffic is allowed on the premises, due to liability concerns.

For other communities who are considering adopting an open use policy, Assistant Principal Brown has a few simple suggestions: assure that the implementation of open community use does not interfere with the routine operations of the school. Keeping the students, staff, and school property safe is the top priority. If previous agreements with other organizations are currently in place, ensure that there is good communication with a clearly designated point of contact, and establish a distinct list of expectations, responsibilities, and regulations.

Mabry Middle School’s open community use is made possible through a team effort. All staff members are involved in the open community use process, from the School District Superintendent to the Athletic Coaches, Maintenance Staff, and the Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation Department. Open community use is not only a valuable asset to Mabry Middle School but also to the entire community of Inman.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is encouraging schools and districts to expand open community use statewide. Healthy Eating/Active Living coordinators from DHEC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity are providing assistance and guidance to convince schools across South Carolina to make their outdoor facilities available for public use to promote physical activity, healthy lifestyles, and stronger communities.

Sandra Sessions is an alumni of Appalachian State University, where she majored in nutrition and foods with a concentration in dietetics.  As the Healthy Eating/Active Living (HEAL) Coordinator with DHEC Public Health Upstate Region, Sandra works with communities to create environments that support healthy eating and active living. Sandra has a passion for educating the public on where their food comes from, and she also enjoys providing the public with easy opportunities to incorporate physical activity into everyday life.