When I first applied for an HSN Activity Grant, our focus was to use the majority of the funds for yoga sessions for our small group of students in an intervention program that occurs within our school. Students are referred to this program with social, emotional, or behavioural issues and last year they had had a good response to yoga, so we wanted to keep it going. Yoga promotes mindfulness and is known to help reduce stress, so it was a good fit for the positive strategies we try to help students develop in the class.
We scheduled and ran three yoga sessions through Ron Andrews Rec Centre which is next door to our school. An instructor came to our class every two weeks. Unfortunately, the students who were most enthusiastic about the classes were no longer at our school by Christmas (they were referred on to another alternate school), and not enough students wanted to continue with it. At this point, I contacted HSN to ask for some suggestions, and I reworked our plan to use our funds to engage students in physical activity in other ways.
The Game Ready fitness program is a low-barrier local gym facility run for specifically for youth. Their goal is to create positive relationships and experiences for students who may not otherwise have good relationships with peers, adults, or their schools and their goals include teaching social and leadership skills. Students who attend Game Ready range in skill level from beginner to advanced, and have the ability to connect with former pro athletes and coaches to meet them at their skill level. We focused on our current non-attending students and used Game Ready Fitness as a way to connect them with a positive educational and exercise experience as a way to reengage them with high school. The Youth Engagement worker with our Choices program at Windsor drove to pick up students from home, took them to Game Ready for a workout, coaching, or mentorship, and brought them back to school or home again.
It was difficult to measure widespread outcomes since our efforts were focused on so few, in this case about 5 male non-attending students, and the evidence we have collected was through informal anecdotes and interviews. The results varied due to the specific situations of each student. Some have been able to use the program to launch an independent P.E. program rather than attend mainstream class, some are able to use it as motivation to continue to completing work in Choices, and in one instance the student decided to go to work instead of pursuing school. Overall, each of the students has said they have loved their time connected to the Game Ready program, and our Youth Engagement worker has reported the positive attitudes and confidence the students always leave the gym with (not to mention some sore muscles too)! Being able to connect with school in a different environment has allowed them to explore a new side to their personalities that they may not feel safe expressing at school.
School connectedness was not a significant aspect of our original plan, our main focus was on developing student mindfulness and strategies to reduce stress while engaging in gentle physical activity with our small group of students. As our plan shifted focus to reengaging non-attending students with school, school connectedness became a larger focus – Game Ready fitness became a way for students to “connect” with an adult at Windsor while slowly transitioning to spending more time in the Choices room or in mainstream classes at school.
Continuing to pursue creative ways to reengage non-attending students with high school is of a great priority for Windsor, having the flexibility to change our plans as needed really helped us meet the needs of our students more easily. Moving forward, creating our own independent P.E. programs might be a great fit for Choices students not yet ready to attend mainstream P.E. classes. The more ways we can find to engage students with classes in new and different ways, hopefully we can see more students choosing to complete their classes to graduate. My advice for others after this experience would be to keep an open mind when carrying out your program, it is better to shift and adapt your program to meet your needs as things change rather than try to keep going with a program that is not a good fit! How we used our grant is not at all like I had first imagined, but in the end we were able to use resources for a much needed effort.