Champions for Health program is life-changing for UFV students and those they mentor

7218318048_b3486de69c_zIt’s four life-changing weeks in a Caribbean nation, but it’s no vacation.

Each year, UFV students from the bachelor’s degree programs in Kinesiology and Education head to the tiny island country of Antigua to volunteer as physical education leaders in elementary schools.

It’s a win-win-win situation for the UFV students, the children they interact with, and the Antiguan teachers they work alongside.

“Our UFV students bring enthusiasm, new tips and ideas, and a desire to learn and share best practices in the area of physical literacy,” says UFV kinesiology professor Joanna Sheppard, who runs the Champions for Health program.

The program gives UFV students the chance to take on a leadership role, relate their academic studies to real-life situations, and make a real difference in the lives of Antiguan children.

“We are giving the Antiguan students a physical education experience wrapped together with life skills,” Sheppard notes. “For some of the, our four-week program is the only formal PE time they will get all year.

And it’s travel with a purpose for the UFV students.

“They get a positive experience being part of strong program,” says Sheppard. “It shapes their outlook and enhances their personal growth. Many return home more enthusiastic about working in local inner-city schools for their own careers.”

Every two years, Antiguan teachers come to visit UFV and Fraser Valley schools as part of the same program. They learn more about the new child-centred British Columbia curriculum, and return home to apply their new knowledge in their own settings.

graeme-dick-alteredSheppard has been part of the program for 10 years, eight of them since becoming a faculty member at UFV (she brought the program with her when hired).

Eight schools have been involved in the program from the beginning, with two more added this year.

“Antigua is and active change agent in improving the way they offer physical and health education, and I am happy to support these positive changes” she says.

At the end of the UFV students’ four weeks in Antigua, they stage the Unity Games, combining elements of a sports day, a track and field meet, team building, and life-skills.

“We have a motto of ‘check, connect, reflect,’” says Sheppard. “We are trying to teach the children responsibility, respect, and teamwork. And these values are absorbed by our students too.”



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