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Students champion health in Antigua

Champions for Health Promoting Schools is a one month study tour that gives students the opportunity to gain relevant hands-on practical experience and the chance to make visible, positive changes within a community. Kinesiology instructor Joanna Sheppard specializes in teaching through physical education and is the director of the Champions program. Each year she brings a group of UFV students to Antigua in the West Indies to teach life skills to elementary students.

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By Griffy Vigneron (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 19, 2013

Many students wish to spend their summer in an exotic location while gaining valuable experience for their careers. For one group of UFV kinesiology students and aspiring teachers, that wish came true.

Champions for Health Promoting Schools is a one month study tour that gives students the opportunity to gain relevant hands-on practical experience and the chance to make visible, positive changes within a community.

Kinesiology instructor Joanna Sheppard specializes in teaching through physical education and is the director of the Champions program. Each year she brings a group of UFV students to Antigua in the West Indies to teach life skills to elementary students.

Fourth-year kinesology student, Inderpret Bring comments on the benefits of being a part of the program.

“It just opens your eyes to what else is out there. It’s a really good opportunity to get out there and experience [teaching] hands on … It allows you to learn about yourself as well,” she says. “You’re seeing how the students are so willing to learn, and how big of an impact you really do have. You don’t realize it until you’re actually down there.”

More than a regular teaching experience, the goal of the program is to teach life skills through games and physical education. And it’s not just for inside the classroom, Bring points out, it’s for use in their families and in their community as well.

While on the study tour, UFV students are referred to as student teachers. They put together lesson plans and games for the classes they are placed in. They also work carefully with Antiguan teachers, learning from and collaborating with them.

“Seeing the passion the teachers there have and how the students want to learn from them as well, just seeing that relationship was really powerful to me,” Bring emphasizes.

Each Friday the student teachers get together to hold an event they call Unity Games. The event is much like a sports day, Bring explained, except that the student games are focused on life skills – much like the lesson plans. A whole school will participate in the Unity Games, which is about 200 to 480 students.

“When you ask them questions they say things that they learned from other games … like two weeks ago during a different lesson plan,” Bring says.

Every year the program goes to the same schools and the same communities.

“I knew these little ones when they were in grade one and now they’re in grade six. It’s pretty exciting for myself as the director to be able to see … their growth and personal changes, but also my student teachers from UFV [get] to see how much impact the past years have had on these students,” Sheppard says.

While the program is geared towards kinesiology students, it is open to anyone interested in teaching.

“The important aspect of this program is the life skills teaching. We use physical activity and health education, but other students within other programs have their art background or photography or film – whatever it is, we really connect with it,” Sheppard says.

Applications for the 2014 Champions program will be open in early September. More information can be found on the UFV Kinesiology website under the Champions tab or by contacting Joanna Sheppard at joanna.sheppard@ufv.ca.

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