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Michelle Darst offers her insight into the program this year.
What is the GR8 Kids program?
GR8 Kids is a program designed to teach 4th-grade students to promote healthy habits and behaviors. It is traditionally an 8-week program that involves teachers, volunteers, paraprofessionals, and physical education teachers. It’s important to reach this age group because risky health behaviors are often established during youth and persist into adulthood. These risky behaviors contribute to injury, illness, and death. Programs like GR8 Kids help educate our children about healthy behaviors with the hopes to decrease risky behaviors such as physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary behaviors. The hopes are these children will establish healthy behaviors that will last into their teenage and adult lives.
So many communities do not begin health education until students enter their middle school health class. We need to begin educating our children at a younger age. Winona has educators who believe in the value of health education and partner with GR8 Kids to help our kids…be GR8 Kids!
How would you describe a “GR8 Kid”?
Being a GR8 kid is based on 6 healthy behaviors: 1 hour or more of physical activity, 2 hours maximum of screen time, 3 servings of low or nonfat milk or yogurt, 4 servings of water (not sugary drinks), 5 servings or more of fruits and vegetables, and 6 or more acts of kindness every day. The aim of this program is to increase these healthy behaviors among youth in our community.
The kids are challenged to keep a journal for 8 weeks (about 2 months) where they record their daily health behaviors. As a school, they earn points towards a reward at the end of the program. Students are learning about these six behaviors through engaging lessons and activities. They are also learning how to have goals and journal their progress towards those goals. We also challenge the 4th graders to get their families involved with these behaviors each week as well. These are skills that last a lifetime.
Tell us about GR8 kids this year. What changes have GR8 kids seen this year since moving online?
Traditionally, GR8 Kids has been an in-person program where Live Well Winona’s Deb McClellan and her volunteers teach 8 lessons at schools in our community.
A couple of years ago, our in-person GR8 Kids program struggled to get through the eight lessons with a few of our schools because of a string of MN Snow Days, and this last year due to COVID restrictions for in-person learning in our schools. We started thinking of a “backup plan” that would be useful for those future snow days when schools move into an e-learning day. This will also help us continue to offer this program during COVID for as long as schools have physical distancing policies in place.
Last fall, our WSU health education majors worked on flipping the in-person lessons into virtual lessons. This spring, our WSU health education majors are helping to pilot these lessons with 4th graders from Goodview Elementary.
Tell us about the volunteer experience of GR8 kids.
For years, GR8 Kids has partnered with Winona State University (WSU) students. WSU students get to experience the collaboration of both community and school. WSU prides itself in its “service-learning” approach to education. These opportunities help our students gain confidence, knowledge, and skills they will use in their future careers. It is fun to see the smiles and connections made for both the 4th graders and the college students.
What is/was the biggest challenge with GR8 Kids this year? Biggest victory?
Like all educators this past year, the biggest challenge is not being in person with the kids. Everyone loves the energy and interaction this program brings. Another challenge has been that we are continually adapting to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to teaching virtually. We have some awesome teachers that are helping us navigate the technology with the kids in the classroom. We learn how the technology works, the way the learners like to engage, what to do more or less next time, etc. Each week we are modifying little pieces as we move into the next.
Our biggest victory is getting students to engage in these healthy behaviors. Another victory is that at the end of piloting this virtual GR8 Kids program this year, we are going to have a backup plan in place and ready anytime we need to use it in the future. Although…we all hope that we get to be in person as much as possible in the future!
What does the future of GR8 kids look like?
We hope to be back to an in-person GR8 Kids program in the future, this is best for everyone involved. However, we will be ready to transition into e-learning days to help with snow days, cold days, COVID days, and anything else that is thrown our way.