UFV kinesiology students are Champions for Health in Antigua

UFV kinesiology students have once again made an impact in Antigua through the Champions for Health program, a collaborative effort between the Kinesiology and Physical Education department at the University of the Fraser Valley and the Ministry of Education in Antigua Barbuda, West Indies. And the program is about expand to include visits to UFV by Antiguan teachers.

Each spring for the past three years, UFV kinesiology professor Joanna Sheppard has accompanied and led UFV undergraduate students to the island of Antigua Barbuda, West Indies.  This year 19 students volunteered at elementary schools across the island, teaching life skills using physical and health education programs that encompass physical, affective, and cognitive, skills: the three aspects of the ‘Whole Child Approach’.

Now the UFV Kinesiology and Physical Education department will be hosting up to four Antiguan teachers for a month-long session to enable them to learn best practices in physical education and health education teaching. Through KPE university lectures, volunteering within the Abbotsford public school system, and becoming a part of the UFV community, the Antiguan teachers will be able to learn as well as teach the importance of physical education from an international perspective.

“We’re very excited that we’re going to be able to reciprocate for the hospitality shown to us in Antigua and provide professional development opportunities for Antiguan teachers,” says Sheppard.

The Antiguan component of the program is as much about teaching life skills as it is about physical education, Sheppard notes.

“One of the cornerstones of this program is to teach the children the life skills that can help them navigate through life’s many challenges,” notes Sheppard. “The skills learned by the students include communication and interpersonal skills, decision-making and critical thinking skills, and coping and self-management skills. Helping students to learn these skills can steer young people away from substance misuse and increases their ability to build strong and healthy interpersonal relationships.

“This year’s experience included providing hands-on life skills within the physical and health education classes, participating at the Antigua Barbuda Teacher’s Union professional development day, collaborating with physical education and generalist teachers on the island through professional workshops presented by myself, and collecting undergraduate qualitative research based on the importance of physical activity within an integrated curriculum.”

The experience was also enhanced with the successful collaboration between the KPE team and the UFV women’s basketball team. Led by head coach Al Tuchscherer, the basketball team was actively involved in life-skill modeling at school basketball clinics and positively promoting the importance of the Champions program through their friendly basketball games against Antiguan women’s teams.

“The trip has been an unbelievable experience for our team,” noted Tuchscherer. “The people have completely embraced us, the island has so much history and beauty, and the basketball experience was something our team will never forget. The girls have had a life-changing experience working in the Antiguan elementary schools, conducting several basketball clinics at the St. John’s YMCA, and getting to know the KPE students that are here for the four-week program.”

The UFV students’ experiences have been logged through the program’s blog site that can be found on the Faculty of Science website at www.ufv.ca . It shows the impact that the program is having, not only on the students of Antigua but also UFV  undergraduate students.
“Teaching is challenging, especially in another culture, however observing my students using what I have taught them reminds me why I am here and that I am doing the right thing. It is a privilege seeing first hand that we are making a sustainable impact in a different part of the world,” noted student Erin Mathison.

The UFV students have been working on leaving a legacy at the elementary schools they have been volunteering in. These legacies include painted murals teaching the importance of keeping the environment clean, the painting of rocks with inspirational life skill statements that can be used around the school, and a new basketball hoop.

The completion of this year’s program is highlighted by the last two Unity Games which involves a half-day sports day encompassing the important life skills that have been taught throughout the month.

“This year’s Champions team has worked extremely hard, and has positively influenced the sustainability of this important program,” said Sheppard. “I have enjoyed watching my students learn, and grow throughout this international experience and know that they will put this knowledge to practical use as they continue to pursue their future careers.”

The UFV students currently fund their own expenses for travelling to Antigua, though Sheppard would welcome financial support from the community to make it more affordable to them.
For more information about the Champions for Health Promoting Schools program please contact Joanna Sheppard at joanna.sheppard@ufv.ca.

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