Feeding Janvier's Growing Minds
A combination of physical activity, a nutritious snack and dialogue about community values is being served up to ECS through Grade 4 students in Janvier, Alberta, through a pilot project called StartSmart.
StartSmart was designed and developed by Sekweha, a community-led, non-profit organization based in Janvier, and supported by Carleton University’s Centre for Initiatives on Children, Youth and Community (CICYCY), and OSLI’s Sustainable Communities Working Group. The program is delivered to students attending Father R. Perin School, located in the hamlet of Janvier, 97 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.
“The project is being delivered with the support and engagement of the community and in accordance with the community’s values,” says Helen Jacobs, chair of OSLI’s Sustainable Communities Working Group.
The StartSmart program is delivered by the Sekweha Youth Team and community volunteers. The pilot project is supported by the school’s principal and staff, the local school board and the Northland School Division.
“StartSmart builds on contemporary research on the importance of high energy activity and good nutrition to support brain health and success in school,” says Jacobs.
The StartSmart program was launched in September 2010 and operates for a half hour each day, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the start of the school day. Students spend approximately five minutes doing warm-up, stretching exercises with names like “stir the soup,” “scratch the giraffe’s ears,” and “popcorn” before launching into 15 minutes of high-energy activities that are age- and grade- appropriate. Following a cool-down period, students are given a nutritious snack to fuel their school day.
The values component includes “Thought of the Day” and is based on the Seven Sacred Teachings — respect, love, honesty, truth, bravery, wisdom and humility— and how these values can be practiced in daily life.
Jacobs says the StartSmart program is one of several programs launched by Sekweha, which was formed by the community with assistance from OSLI. Sekweha means “for the youth” in Dene/Chipewyan, the language of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nations, located in an area containing in situ oil sands operations.
Sekweha’s vision is to create a healthy, safe and sustainable community that helps children and youth gain the knowledge, confidence and skills they need to make a positive contribution to their own future and that of their community.
Sekweha and the community worked together to understand local needs and how they could best be met. This led to conversations between Sekweha, other community volunteers, staff at Father R. Perin School, representatives from Carleton University’s CICYCY, and OSLI’s Sustainable Communities Working Group. Together they consulted with leading research and program developers on the link between exercise and brain function.
“The result has been the development of a tailored, evidence-informed program that is designed to contribute to the healthy social development of children and to enhance their readiness to learn,” says Jacobs.
The StartSmart pilot project is monitored and evaluated for ongoing program development. Once the pilot is complete, it will be expanded to the entire school, which includes ECS to Grade 9. All grades currently receive the StartSmart nutritious snack.