This summer, a group of Lowell students participated in summer camps intended to boost their literacy and math skills. And then they were given the chance to participate in a program that organizers hope will become a model for other communities: Lowell Wellness Camp.
“The school invited us and asked if we wanted to provide another camp in addition to literacy and math,” explains program director Jodie Seese.
Although attendance varied by day, a total of 46 students enrolled in the eight-session program that spanned two weeks in the middle of August. Participants ranged from kindergarteners to a few students entering middle school.
“We’re pioneering a concept that hasn’t been done before,” Seese says.
Lowell Wellness Camp is based on the responses from the 2016 LoWellness Health Survey. That means the program is geared specifically to address healthy living challenges raised by Lowell families and students. The camps also touch on information that may not be covered in school curriculums such as the importance of sleep or why screen time should be limited.
The result has been a program that organizers hope can be a model for other communities across the nation. “Our work is getting recognized and published,” according to Seese.
Holistic Approach to Healthy Living
During the summer wellness camp, students began in “base camp.” There, they did some warm-up activities and completed a “survey” of questions based on that day’s lessons. For instance, they were asked how much sugar is in certain foods or how they could work together with others to clear leaves from a yard.
That survey was actually part of the evaluation component of the wellness program. Students were asked the same questions at the start and end of each day to first gauge their understanding of various concepts and then determine if they learned anything while at camp.
After base camp, groups – split by age – went to various stations designed around the camp’s main wellness goals:
- Eating Better
- Moving More
- Smiling Often
“We don’t use the terms ‘diet’ or ‘exercise,’” Seese explains. “Instead, we learn about nutrition to grow and movement for physical activity that you enjoy.”
There was also a fourth station entitled “You Choose,” which allowed students to decide how they wanted to spend their time. Napping, reading or journaling were all options, but Seese says most students chose to head outside to the playground.
“Wellness Camp is a great opportunity for kids to learn and begin to understand that they can be in charge of their own health,” says Jaylee Brown, program coordinator. “The camp offers fun and engaging lessons to incorporate preventative measures, coping mechanisms, and more.”
With a focus on visuals and hands-on activities, Lowell Wellness Camp tries to make it easy and enjoyable for kids to learn about how to improve their physical and mental health. That means rather than simply being told to wear a seat belt, students could see its importance through a demonstration with eggs in cardboard cars. Instead of hearing what foods are healthy, they tried a different discovery food each day and then considered what the food was and where it was grown.
“Parents have said [their kids] are so excited to get here that they forget to say good-bye,” Seese says.
Collaborative Effort with GVSU
Lowell Community Wellness has partnered with the Grand Valley State University Master of Public Health program for ten years now. Graduate students have played an integral part in organizing and running the camps. They have helped design the curriculum and lessons that are then put into practice by Lowell teachers and para-professionals who guide students through the various camp activities.
“It’s very refreshing to come to a community that’s all in,” Brown says. Brown was a graduate assistant when she first helped out with Lowell Wellness Camp. Having graduated in April, she returned to Lowell this summer to coordinate the summer wellness camp and work with Seese to plan for future programs.
Right now, the two are exploring the feasibility of individual and family-based nutrition programs. They will also take feedback from the summer wellness camp to make adjustments, as needed, for future camps.
“I think we can be a leader in how a community comes together to address health,” Seese says.