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What A Commitment To Health And Social-Emotional Learning Looks Like

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By Daniel Hatcher

In my last post, What Is the Healthy Afterschool Movement?, I discussed Healthier Generation's partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association, through which we've helped over 1,650 park and recreation sites provide increased access to healthy food and physical activity for more than 293,000 kids.

The numbers are exciting - but what does it truly look like to "Commit To Health" while bringing social, emotional and academic development practices to life?

For this post, I interviewed two young professionals from Montrose Recreation District (Colo.): Tyler Morales, site coordinator, and Mackenzie Lyons, program leader. Both are part of a brand new rural cohort of Commit to Health sites funded by the Walmart Foundation. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell me a little about your program and the community you serve.

TM: Montrose is a small community on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Our program is a half-day summer camp and our primary goal is to create an enriching summer full of educational, physical, and artistic activities. We serve students between the ages of 6 and 14. We focus on the whole child (mental, physical, and emotional) and our team plans activities in collaboration with the local community.

How long have you been part of Commit to Health? What benefits has your enrichment program experienced from being part of Commit to Health?

ML: This is our first summer being part of Commit to Health and we've found it fun to use new resources like Foods of the Month and Community and Home Gardening to engage families in meaningful ways. Our students enjoyed learning about foods that we were planning to grow, getting their hands dirty planting, watering and, of course, weeding.

Our children thought it was awesome to see the foods grow and enjoy the result of their hard work - making it even more exciting to try new vegetables! As for the physical activity side of our program, we have seen children's confidence and ability increase over the summer. It's inspiring to see students play games that they have never heard of before and overcome fears to jump into the pool for the first time.

montrose1.PNG

How does health and wellness fit within your programming? How does this extend to staff education?

TM: When our leaders sit down to plan the summer, they now make sure to add cooperative outdoor physical activity into the schedule. If food is used, we focus on whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Our staff is conscious of the foods that they eat in front of children; this has led to improvements in what our staff eat in their daily life. In addition to eating healthy foods with our children every day, our team participates in the activities. We have guidelines for the duration of physical activity (45 minutes) per day of camp, where it takes place (outside) and any videos used are educational.

We've added activities that increase cultural competency too. For example, we had a themed week called "Every Day is a Holiday," which included cultural traditions from Mexico, China, and across the United States. We included crafts, physical activity and enriching videos so our children could learn more about each other and the world.

Key components of the Whole Child model include community involvement and family engagement. How does your program provide guidance in these areas?

ML: This year we formed an important community group called "Peer Kindness" that focuses on anti-bullying strategies, inclusion, and kindness. This group was started because of a community member's suicide. We focused on how each of us can foster kindness and prevent similar tragedies from happening. The children learned techniques for including each other in activities and how to stand up for each other.

For parent involvement, we hosted art expos where the children could show their parents everything that they have created throughout the sessions. We also have a parent bulletin board and education table that includes recipes, at-home activities, and newspaper articles that celebrate our program. We want to make families proud of what we're doing.

The social and emotional health of children can be as important as physical health. How can we better take care of children's emotional needs when we Commit to Health?

TM: Emotional growth is so important for children in the age range we serve in Montrose. We make sure that children learn to share their feelings and tell their own stories during programming. If they are upset, we want to make sure our environment empowers them to express their feelings. Some of the children we serve come from challenging homes; to be heard is important for their well-being. As leaders, we practice our communication skills as well. We don't yell, and we model appropriate conversation skills - even if it is communicating that a child did something wrong. Making sure our children are practicing appropriate ways to communicate their feelings is key in all of our daily practices no matter what we're teaching.

Photo: Commit to Health students pitch in to weed the community garden. (Courtesy of Daniel Hatcher/Commit to Health Montrose)

­­­­­­Daniel W. Hatcher is director of community partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a national nonprofit working to empower schools, companies, community organizations and families to transform the conditions and systems that lead to healthier kids. Hatcher has spent over a decade developing partnerships and innovative content with the goal of ensuring all 10.2 million children in afterschool have the opportunity to eat healthy and stay active.

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