What about physical activity in remote communities?
BOKS: New Learnings from Remote Canadian Communities
Canada is a beautiful country, and every city or town has their own unique characteristics. Over the past few months, the BOKS Canada team has had the opportunity to explore many communities to learn from students, parents, teachers, elders, and community members who live there – we wanted to understand the best way to engage with communities about their physical activity needs. We also wanted to better understand some of the unique situations they face, that can make providing opportunities for physical activities so challenging. Our travels took us through Northern Alberta, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and while no two communities were the same, we learned a lot from our experiences.
Many communities across Canada continue to face challenges when it comes to integrating opportunities for physical activity during the school day. These challenges are often amplified in communities that exist outside of city centers, or generally just don’t have equal access to resources. BOKS believes it’s important to meet every school and community where they are at, and therefore, it was important for team members to engage with key contacts to learn about the specific needs of each community, and how we could best support them. For example, Katie Santos, an Educational Assistant at Mildred Hall School in Yellowknife states: “Here in Yellowknife our community faces a lot of challenges with poverty and low income. We have a hard time engaging our community with physical activities because most youth don’t have the resources for example for “transportation.”
Hurdles like a lack of ability to source gym equipment to support programming, limited (or no) connectivity, and even extreme weather can keep kids from getting active throughout the day. Katie Santos says they “have struggled up in the North due to indoor recesses because of the COLD weather” – BOKS staff experienced first-hand temperatures plummeting below –35 degrees Celsius in areas like Whitehorse and Yellowknife. When it is frigidly cold like this, students are not able to head outside to play, and their time being physically active in a day is lost.
It’s important to recognize that creating sustainability and retention of physical activity programs in these areas can substantially improve the school day for both staff and students!
BOKS staff were fortunate to meet key local contacts, currently championing physical activity initiatives in their respective communities, who feel passionate about keeping the kids in their classrooms active. These champions are key to creating sustainable healthy initiatives in schools, and ultimately the long-term health and wellness of students. BOKS is grateful for these partnerships and would not be able to support Canadian youth without them.
Through these local key contacts, BOKS also had the opportunity to train school staff. Being able to provide printed material, equipment to facilitate activities, and turn-key resources was important to the groups BOKS worked with. They identified it as a way they would be able to provide programming long-term, and individualize the program to support their own students. Offering options that required little or no equipment meant that staff could easily integrate activities into the classroom right away. BOKS staff were thrilled to hear from several different champions that they were already using the skills they had learned through BOKS, in their classrooms and were seeing positive shifts in their students.
It was identified on several occasions that utilizing older leadership students to engage in a Junior Training program would be beneficial to sustaining physical activity programs in schools. Many of the schools BOKS worked with had a wide range of ages in one school or employed older students from neighboring middle/high schools to support before and after-school care programs. BOKS is currently working with the programs to train Junior Trainers and develop resources to support these junior leaders.
BOKS is thankful to have a better understanding of the barriers to physical activity these communities face, and for the conversations with champions to better inform our approach to support them. Providing printed lesson documents and materials, for example, is much more impactful than an online platform in many cases. By empowering schools with the tools to incorporate physical activity in their days, we also give them the autonomy to individualize their programs in ways that best support their students.
No matter where your community is in Canada, we challenge you to consider what barriers to physical activity you might face – can you identify champions in your community? What practices does your school community currently have in place? What more can we do to keep our kids active with the goal of creating healthy lifestyles and communities?
BOKS hopes to continue working with communities that struggle to integrate physical activity opportunities during the school day – there are a lot of different challenges being faced and the more knowledge is shared about some of the struggles, the more we can do together to find solutions.
Check out the BOKS Team in Northwest Territories:
Kyla Crocker, Lauren Hutchison & Chris Tremblay
Regional Coordinators, BOKS Canada
Special thanks to:
- Ecole Emilie Tremblay
- Whitehorse Elementary
- Elijah Smith Elementary
- Golden Horn Elementary
- Christ the King Elementary
- St-Patrick’s Highschool
- Boreale Elementary School
- Kakisa Lake School
- Deh Gáh Elementary and Secondary School
- Mildred Hall Elementary
- Líídlįį Kúę Elementary School
- Líídlįį Kúę Regional High School