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

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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) 

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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

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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“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.

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

Outdoor Education Center

Global Connections with Leaders in Action

Despite the obstacles of school cancellations due to snow and ice so far this year here in West Virginia, the months of January and February continue to be our time of making global connections with our Leaders in Action students during our geography and cultures unit. This past Wednesday, we kicked off the intro lesson with the continents of North and South America. Our students enjoyed a game show style quiz activity where a picture was displayed and their teams got points for putting up the correct paddle of either North, Central, or South America. They learned about the Inuit peoples of the north and were taken along hikes up a couple of Alaska’s most beautiful mountaintops.

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During the second half of the program, they found themselves jogging with their bags and backpacks through the school halls to get a taste of what it might be like to be a young Chasquis traveling dozens of miles in a day throughout the mountainous road and trail systems of the Ancient Incan Empire to deliver precious goods and important messages. Next, a photo slideshow of Peru exposed the colors and customs there, along with the multi-day backpacking trip it takes to see the perfectly stacked walls and elaborate structures of Machu Picchu. Even the snack for the day included tea from South America and Salmon Dip and Crackers for a taste of Alaska and the Inuit diet.

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In Winter, being cooped up in a classroom can be a tricky and challenging learning environment, and we aimed to make up for what might have been lacking with the use of presentations, pictures, music, video clips, foods, and the power of storytelling through personal experiences. Overall, the goal of these lessons is to enhance students’ appreciation for cultural differences and commonalities, spark their intellectual curiosity for worlds that are new and unknown to many of us, and even grow their sense of belonging with discussion about our very own local geography and culture.

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

News, Outdoor Education Center

Meet Zoe: A Leaders In Action Student

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Zoe is one of our 8th grade Leaders In Action (LIA) students. When asked what she has learned the most through LIA, she responded, “Leadership. I have learned more about group dynamics and that in order for a group project to get done there has to be leaders and followers.  I know now how to be a part of a group and how to work together, like when we do big projects, how to work with other people to get things done,” Zoe says.

One of her favorite parts of LIA is all the fun she has while learning. “The teachers are really fun, and they make the things we learn really neat because they are so goofy.” Her favorite memory from this school year so far has been “making those geysers out of film canisters because they shot out real far and also almost hit my shoes.”

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Another favorite of Zoe is “while we are learning all these fun things we also get to earn points to go to summer camp.” Last year Zoe earned the chance to attend our summer camp at the Outdoor Education Center (OEC) and is very much looking forward to returning this summer.

Zoe’s favorite memory from last summer was “the greenhouse and all of the projects we did with natural things. Also the high ropes were a lot of fun. My favorite part was the ‘zig-zag’ crossing.” For this summer she is most looking forward to “seeing and having more fun times with Harpers Ferry and DC friends again.”

This year our LIA program is actively involved with the seven dimensions of health: physical, social, emotional, environmental, spiritual, intellectual, and occupational. Students will have many opportunities to participate in community events, visit organizations on field trips, and host local guest speakers.

To kickoff 2014 LIA students have already participated in their midyear fitness test and have shown great improvement since the beginning of the school year. Zoe says, “I like the snow, but I wish we did not have as many snow days because I miss Leaders In Action and want to get back to learning more cool things.” For more information about Leaders In Action visit: http://flocoutdoors.org/youth/leaders-action.

(Kate Nelson is an AmeriCorps Vista at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center).