CALEDONIA, JUNE 16, 2014- Local students are hitting the streets to both boost their own health, and also to encourage their fellow students to make healthy choices.
Two area elementary schools, Grandview Central in Dunnville and River Heights in Caledonia, established ‘Freedom Runners’ clubs earlier this spring. The clubs meet throughout the week during recess and nutrition breaks, either for a non-competitive run around town or for a group discussion around a variety of health and character development topics.
While staff members offer supervision and support, the students in the older grades take leadership when the group is running and also facilitate the health sessions for the younger kids.
Topics covered by the groups include healthy eating, tobacco use, the importance of being physically active, bullying and peer relationships, alcohol and other drugs, body image and self-esteem, stress management and mental health promotion. The Grand Erie District School Board’s positive character attributes, such as respect, perseverance, cooperation and others are also a focus of the Freedom Runners club.
Matthew Turner is a mentor in Freedom Runners, and sees lots of benefits of being a part of the club at River Heights.
“Being a part of Freedom Runners not only makes my body stronger, but it makes me a stronger person too,” explained the Grade 7 student. “We’re learning more about how to take care of our bodies, how to be a positive influence in our school and community, and how to make good decisions about our health that will benefit us now and in the future. Plus it’s lots of fun.”
The club’s running shirts are emblazoned with the motto ‘I Run Me’. The slogan was chosen to represent the fact that members of Freedom Runners are in control of their own health and decisions, and will not be influenced by the many media images, marketing strategies and other pressures that try to convince them to make unhealthy choices.
In partnership with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, the students have received training about various ways companies try to make their unhealthy or unnecessary products look so appealing to young people. Issues such as candy-flavoured tobacco products and the portrayal of smoking in movies were discussed, along with marketing tactics such as celebrity endorsement of fast food and slick advertising of sugary drinks and alcohol.
“We know companies try lots of sneaky ways to get young people like me to buy or use their products. But they don’t care about our health and what’s best for us, they just want our money,” added Turner.
The Health Unit is happy to support an initiative like Freedom Runners, as public health officials understand that most health habits, positive or negative, develop early in a person’s life, and they can be hard to change later on.
“It’s exciting to see our schools, including principals, teachers, educational assistants and other staff members, running alongside the students,” noted Josh Daley, Health Promoter with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. “Not only are they volunteering their break time to help make their school healthier, but they’re also being positive role models and reinforcing healthy lifestyle choices that will help set their students up for healthy, successful lives throughout adulthood.”
School staff involved in the program see the value of Freedom Runners, as it not only gets kids up and moving more, but it also teaches healthy habits and leadership skills. The club also helps the students develop critical thinking and decision-making skills, which will help them succeed as they prepare to move on to secondary school.
“We know that healthy, active students are better learners in the classroom, but the benefits of the Freedom Runners program also extends to the playground, to other clubs and teams, and to students’ home lives,” said Patti McMaster, one of the teachers who helps coordinate the club at River Heights. “Having healthy, engaged young people is a tremendous asset for our school community, and for Haldimand County as a whole.”
The two schools will be joining together for a 2km Freedom Run along the Grand River in Caledonia on June 19 at 12:45 p.m., starting from River Heights Public School. Parents and community members are invited to join in the run to support the students. Prize giveaways and healthy snacks will also be offered.
Health Promoter, School Health Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519.426.6170 or 905.318.6623 ext. 3256