News, Outdoor Education Center, Scholars Program

Middle School Pen Pals

For the third year in a row, FLOC Scholars in Washington have been pen pals this semesterhello with FLOC Leaders in Action students in West Virginia. These middle schoolers live less than two hours away from one another, but those 70 miles represent a significant difference between the urban environment of DC and the rural environment of Jefferson County. As program wraps up this month in both places, we thought we’d take a look back at the letters these middle school students have written over the last few months and the relationships they’ve formed in the process.

DC Scholars 6th Grade Pen Pals Project (2)

The letters begin with lots of questions:

“What is your school like?”  “What is your favorite thing to do outside?” “What do you want to do when you grow up?” “Who likes Chick-fil-a?” “Do you like to read? Do you like to play? Do you like homework?”

And continue with requested answers:

“When I grow up, I want to be an underwater mechanic.” “My winter break was good. I did watch The Hunger Games. It was good, but it was a bit sad.” “We’ve missed about a week and a half of school because of snow. We went sledding, snowboarding, and shoveled snow.” 

group of letters

They’re chatty, inquisitive, friendly, and colorful, punctuated with drawings and P.S.’s and  jokes. They talk about their favorite foods and TV shows, video games and YouTube stars, Star Wars and Deadpool and Alvin and the Chipmunks, winter break snow and spring break plans. They shatter misconceptions (No, the West Virginians don’t live in barns. Yes, there are places to sled in DC.) There’s even a little touch of election politics conversation.

WV LIA Charles Town Middle School Pen Pal Project

Most of all, it’s clear that for all these students live in different communities, they have a lot more in common than not. It’s also clear that friendships are blossoming via their writing.

“It has been a good experience to communicate with you… I hope to see you in summer camp.”

SAP-8811

(Elizabeth Metz is the Recruitment and Outreach Manager at FLOC.)

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Outdoor Education Center

Happy and Healthy New Year!

 

December brought the Health and Nutrition Unit to a close for the WV Leaders in Action students, but not before some final lessons about the body’s need for a well-rounded approach to fitness.  Not only does health and fitness include cardio and strength activities, but stretching and flexibility activities as well.  They’re not just for gymnasts and cheerleaders, martial artists or dancers. Stretching is how a person maintains normal flexibility throughout life.

A person may not be able to function normally if a joint lacks normal movement. The ability to move a joint through an adequate range of movement (ROM) is important for daily activities in general.  Tightness or loss of ROM happens quite readily in our culture with much of our education and work happening in the sitting position at a desk.  The major areas of our hamstrings, hip-flexors, back, and neck are most commonly affected.  With losses of ROM, simple activities such as walking, biking, and playing can be restricted, more difficult, or even just less enjoyable.  As a point of remedy and wellness, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.1

stretching

So with all of this in mind, of course we headed outside with our students to learn some simple and easy active and static stretches to help them maintain and improve their capacity and ability to play and enjoy life.  How much they take care of their bodies is a decision that our students will have to make. But how might their health affect their education, I wondered?  After a bit a research, I came across this article2 which gives input into that very question.  Although complex, the answer is in short… of course their educational experience is impacted by their health.

As the semester came to a close, I wondered if there’s a larger lesson embedded in all of this as well.  Maintaining physical flexibility can be helpful to enjoy life and potentially take on new types of movements and activities more readily.  Can this be a metaphor for other aspects of who we are?  Mental flexibility can help us to think in new ways, adapt to different situations, or understand new concepts.  Emotional flexibility can help us cope with a variety of experiences or be less judgmental toward our peers. These skills can be important aspects on the path towards post-secondary education success.

So here’s to a brand new start filled with resolutions of all kinds that help us to loosen up in many ways. Wishing you, and all of our students, a happy and healthy new year.

References:

  1. http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-releases/2011/08/01/acsm-issues-new-recommendations-on-quantity-and-quality-of-exercise
  2. http://hubpages.com/health/Does-health-affect-education

(Josh Evans is the Program Assistant for FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center in WV) 

Outdoor Education Center

Empowerment and Health

Students today are faced with many decisions in their life. FLOC aims to help students understand that they constantly have many choices, even when it comes to their health and the health of their community. Part of the youth empowerment programming adopted by FLOC’s West Virginia Leaders in Action program includes the self-awareness and knowledge that they do have power to make good decisions and affect change.

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Here in WV, the statistics for childhood obesity rates reached close to 18.5% in 2011 placing the state high on the list at number 13 compared with the 50 other states. For the same year, DC youth obesity rates were just above 21% putting the district at 4th highest among other states.   Poor health and nutrition and lack of activity can also be major determining factors in a person’s ability to focus, to sleep well, and have energy and motivation. The link between education and health is well documented, but it would not be surprising that students’ health could affect their education as well.

For the second half of the fall semester, our Leaders in Action programs have been immersed in the Health and Nutrition unit. Students looked at the consequences of added sugars with the enhanced visuals of actually measuring out the numbers of teaspoons of sugar in a variety of familiar foods and products. They also discussed standard dental hygiene practices and strategies for caring for our protective tooth enamel such as avoiding sugary acidic beverages. Everyone was surprised to learn that most fruit juices and sports drinks are comparable to sodas when it comes to acidity and sugar content.

The focus this month is on the importance of movement and activity in our lives.  Learning or developing unhealthy habits as a child can set a person up for a lifetime of difficulties and disease.  Play and movement can be fun, and implementing healthy habits can increase a child’s energy and confidence.  So last week, in honor of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, we visited a local county park’s indoor playground and got active for one hour.  After learning how to measure their heart rates and get them up to beneficial levels, with the help of a moon bounce and some fun games like clothes pin tag, all those present got the recommended 60 minutes of activity in for that day.

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The health of a population is affected not just by education and awareness, but also by economic inequalities, and access to healthy food and safe, active, appropriate spaces to play, among other things.  We don’t want our young people to be limited in life by preventable health issues.  Their potential is at stake, so let’s move towards a more healthy and just society together.

(Josh Evans is the Program Assistant for FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center in WV)

Outdoor Education Center

Welcome, new summer OEC counselors!

Every June, we at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center welcome our new summer staff of counselors.  It’s an exciting and challenging time for all of us as they are run through an intensive training schedule 2 and a half weeks long that prepares them for co-facilitating our FLOC kids camps.

During this time, they end up covering everything from “hard skills” such as safety and techniques on our High Ropes course, canoeing on the Shenandoah River, or backpacking on the Blue Ridge to the ever important “soft skills” like facilitating groups of students through the Low Ropes course challenges, helping groups to think about and learn from their experiences, and building confidence and rapport with our campers through a positive culture of interactions.

Natalie pic 1

This year we are welcoming Natalie Pickett as one of our new summer staff counselors.  Natalie comes all the way from Birmingham, AL.  She attended Louisiana State University and just graduated with a degree in Child and Family Studies and a minor in Business.  She brings 3 years of experience working with 6th through 8th graders in an afterschool program during her time in college.

Being from the south, this summer Natalie is excited to explore and learn about a new place and appreciate the cultural, social, and environmental differences.  She is especially looking forward to bonding with our camp youth and watching many of them experience something new.   “This,” she says, “is the reason I took this job.”  In addition to her gifts and passion for music, guitar, and singing, she is also very interested in social issues, particularly that of social justice.  In the future, she’ll be pursuing a career in non-profit management where she looks forward to working with at-risk youth, underserved populations, and the homeless.

A big welcome to Natalie and all of our new summer staff.

(Josh Evans is the Program Assistant for FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center in WV) 

Outdoor Education Center

Throwback Thursday: November’s Wee Warrior Dash in West Virginia

wee warrior 2

It was a cold (but not too windy) Saturday morning in November. About 200 kids and adults gathered at the Sam Michaels Park in Jefferson County for the Wee Warrior Dash. Some of the staff here at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center voluntarily help to organize and put on the free event for kids, and we invited any of our after school program kids to join us for the fun. This year, Iann and David, two of our Leaders in Action students, adventurously came out for the morning excitement.

wee warrior 5

Not only did they receive t-shirts and goodie bags, but the real enticement of the mile long youth race are the obstacles, lots of them. David, Iann, and the other 120+ wee warriors climbed, jumped, crawled, hurdled, and zig-zagged through a dozen different fun physical features. I interviewed David well after the race and asked him how it was and he said, “It was challenging but not too challenging. I enjoyed the obstacles the most.”

wee warrior 6

David has been in our program for a couple years now, but this year he has been faithfully coming to the optional Running Club portion every chance he gets. He’s been working hard and has even started doing more on his own outside of the club. Checking back in with David a couple months after the race I asked him if he was still running at home some. “Yes, about once or twice a week for about 15 minutes in my backyard,” he says. “It has a hill and trees that you have to weave around kind of like obstacles.”

wee warrior 4
“Would you do it again?” I ask. Without hesitation David answers, “Yes.” That’s the real goal for such an event like the Wee Warrior Dash or our running club. It’s challenging and fun, and we aim to inspire more kids to learn to enjoy physically exerting themselves for the sake of their health, enjoyment, and confidence knowing that they can overcome all sorts of challenging obstacles if they just try their best. We are certainly proud of Iann and David for giving it their best that day.

wee warrior 1

(Josh Evans is the Program Assistant for FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center in WV)