While many tend to huddle inside during the winter, the students at Bristol Consolidated School and Whitefield Elementary School are embracing the cold and snow, trekking through opportunities to compete, play, and be healthy this January.
Each year, two schools from each of Maine’s 16 counties are chosen to compete against each other in the month-long WinterKids Winter Games program.
WinterKids is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing outdoor physical activity in children and families during the state’s long winters.
Each of the competing schools receives points for percentage of participation, number of activities completed, non-teaching staff participation, guest speaker involvement, social media goals, and weekly specials.
Weekly scores for each school can be found on the WinterKids website at https://tinyurl.com/vx95fd5.
Whitefield Elementary School Principal Mark Deblois called the decision to participate a “no-brainer.” He said students from every grade – prekindergarten to eighth – are taking part in the fun.
BCS Principal Jennifer Ribeiro described the games as a great opportunity to get kids outside and moving during the cold, dark days of winter, as well as a chance to teach them about winter recreation activities.
WinterKids activities are interwoven into the daily school schedule. Schools must tailor their activities to follow a different theme during each of the four weeks.
WinterKids has a list of activity ideas, but Deblois said teachers also design their own activities to fit the theme for the week.
Week one was outdoor physical activity and science, week two was nutrition and math, week three is family engagement and art, and the final week is winter carnival, technology, and engineering.
Kandi Kinney, BCS teacher and one of the lead organizers of WinterKids activities at the school, said the school has to submit detailed scoring sheets and evidence, such as photos and videos, of activities the school completes.
At the end of the month-long competition, the gold medal-winning school will receive a prize of $5,000. Silver nets $3,000, bronze $1,500. The remaining 29 schools will receive honorable mentions and smaller prizes.
The students each receive weekly prizes.
“The great thing is that every school that participates gets something,” Kinney said.
During the WinterKids opening ceremony Jan. 3, BCS had a staff dog-sledding challenge – teams of two staff members each raced around the gymnasium, one pulling the other on a small scooter. Students made torches out of construction paper.
During week one at BCS, Kinney’s sixth grade class created a weather report Jan. 8. On the same day, students went snowshoeing and sledding.
On Jan. 8 and 9, BCS students in grades five through eight made miniature sleds with 3D printers and raced the sleds down icy Matchbox tracks on the playground.
On Jan. 10, Holly Nelson, of the Bristol Parks and Recreation Department, taught students in grades four through eight about outdoor winter recreation, showed them maps of trails and preserves in the area, and took them outside to build forts out of sticks and other forest materials.
For the nutrition-focused second week, Karen Kleinkopf, coordinator of the FARMS at the Y program, visited BCS on Jan. 13 to teach students in grades four, six, and eight about healthy foods and how to prepare them.
Students learned about nutritionally dense foods such as beets, cabbage, rutabaga, sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, pea shoots, and more. All the foods Kleinkopf brought to cook were locally grown. The school held a school-wide taste test of the recipes, which included coleslaw, roasted vegetables, and a butternut squash soup.
The CLC YMCA brought its smoothie bike to the school to make “kid-powered” smoothies out of yogurt, fruit, and spinach.
On Jan. 20, BCS held a family winter fun day at Wawenock Golf Club in Walpole. Students, BCS staff, and parents took turns sledding down the hill alongside Route 129. Many families brought their bingo cards that encourage them to engage in more winter activities, such as building a snow fort, clearing a neighbor’s driveway, or going ice skating.
For Whitefield Elementary, Jamie Simpson, the physical education teacher, has taken on the role of lead organizer for the WinterKids games.
“We are excited to be selected as a WinterKids school, and Whitefield has embraced the challenge,” Simpson said.
During the opening ceremony at Whitefield, students and staff gathered outside to hear from a guest speaker. The school’s mascot, a wildcat, came in on a sled with a “torch” in tow to light a small fire pit.
The younger students, from pre-K to second grade, had dressed their stuffed animals in winter-appropriate attire and built sleds to take them sledding. Eighth graders designed, built, and tested sleds made out of cardboard, duct tape, and trash bags. Other grades played street hockey and created snow slides and tunnels.
The nutrition and math week included a school-wide healthy snack cook-off judged by “celebrities” who volunteer or work for the school or RSU 12.
The same week, each grade made a different treat incorporating fruits, vegetables, and other healthy snacks.
Some of the grades made traditional snacks, such as parfaits and trail mix, while other grades put a creative twist on simple snack foods. One grade made a fire pit, with grapes used for rocks, pretzels for firewood, and blocks of cheese sliced to resemble flames. Another grade spread red pepper hummus on a plate and spelled out WHES, for Whitefield Elementary School, using carrots.
Students also helped cook and deliver about 100 meals for seniors and others in need.
Whitefield students were looking forward to Wednesday, Jan. 22, the day of an outdoor family event at Hidden Valley Nature Center with fat-tire biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
According to Deblois, the staff has thought of ideas to keep the spirit of WinterKids alive next winter, such as turning the outdoor basketball court into an ice rink.
“Sure, I’d be happy to accept the check for $5,000 for the school. I would have a big smile on my face as I’d do that, but I don’t think that’s what the whole goal is about,” Deblois said.
“We feel strongly that this is a great motivation (to get students outside). A lot of kids don’t understand the outdoor resources that Maine presents to people, in the wintertime in particular,” he said.