When new students arrive at Coker College in Hartsville next week, they will begin a new orientation session, as most freshmen do. However, unlike other schools, at Coker that session will now include a mandatory fitness requirement.
The new program is meant to encourage students at the school to live a healthier lifestyle. Part of the orientation requires a one-time fitness assessment, which includes measuring the student’s body-mass index (BMI), how fast they can run a mile, and how many push-ups or sit-ups they can do in a few minutes. The assessments will be private between the student and a faculty member.
After that, students would then be required to sign up for different fitness options, ranging from intramural sports to nutrition classes. The idea would be that certain activities will be more appealing to some students than others. Other possibilities include Zumba– a form of dancing exercise– and inner tubing on a lake, among others.
“There’s a wide range of options that will allow students to do things they are comfortable with,” Coker College President Robert Wyatt said, “We would like to think it will push them a little bit out of their comfort zone and move them towards a state of better wellness.
Intramural sports can go towards the class. However, athletes cannot use their position on varsity teams as credit.
Coker is an independent private college with a little more than 1,100 full-time students. About 300 freshmen and transfer students will take part in the program this fall.
Wyatt said South Carolina’s reputation for obese teens and high rates of diabetes was the reason he and other pushed for fitness to become a part of the school curriculum. Recent data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed nearly 31 percent of South Carolinians are obese.
“In a lot of these cases, (students) are simply a product of the culture in which they grew up,” Wyatt said, “We want that trend to reverse, and we know that the best way to do that is to teach them before they go out and begin a family for themselves one day.”
Wyatt says Coker’s small size (about a 10-to-1 student/faculty ratio) means students are already accustomed to working closely with faculty on academics, so adding fitness into the mix is not that unusual.
The new program is the latest step for the school, which has been moving towards a more health-conscious attitude since Wyatt’s inauguration in 2010. Last year, the dining hall began offering additional healthier foods in its dining hall, along with old Southern fried favorites. According to the president, students have been receptive to the idea. Wyatt said he and other school officials held a bit of a mini-celebration when students began buying more grilled chicken tenders than fried.
He hopes students will also warm up to the idea of a required fitness class. “So far, we’ve gotten mostly praise from parents for being sort of forward-thinking,” he said, “It is positioned really as just another component of a well-rounded, liberally-educated kind of person.