AUGUST 19, 2019 — Schools open this week for thousands of children from Juneau to Anchorage to Bethel. More than 115 elementary schools in 23 school districts across Alaska are getting ready for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge that starts Sunday, Sept. 1. Many schools in rural communities are participating, thanks in part to organizations like the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC).
Aqqaluk Elementary School in Noorvik is ready for the free challenge that has students logging their physical activity each month. So is Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok. Kids will be doing the Challenge in Fort Yukon in the Interior, Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, and White Mountain at the end of the Iditarod Trail.
Recruiting champions to support the Challenge in rural Alaska
This year, ANTHC is partnering with Healthy Futures to expand the number of Healthy Futures champions who support the Challenge in their rural, often remote communities. Champions can be more than teachers and coaches, said Dana Diehl, Wellness and Prevention Director at ANTHC. They can be parents, young adults looking for ways to help their communities, and people who work in health education and prevention at local clinics.
“I think one of the things that we like about Healthy Futures is it doesn’t have to be organized physical activity,” Diehl said. Participating students can count all kinds of activities, not just organized sports.
“In the rural areas, that’s especially important because there are so many opportunities to get activity in the outdoors,” Diehl said. That includes Alaska Native dancing, hunting for moose, picking berries, fishing and more, she said.
Diehl lives and works in Anchorage, but she grew up in Aniak along the Kuskokwim River — the home of Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School. Teachers at this small school regularly sign up to participate in the Challenge. Diehl said she’s excited that her hometown school commits time to promoting physical activity and the Healthy Futures Challenge.
“The village is on a river, so there are all kinds of things you can do on the river – like fishing,” she said. “It’s across from all kinds of rolling hills where you can go berry picking.”
Families can bike, walk and run near the village’s airstrip, she said.
“There are all kinds of opportunities to get out and play around Aniak.”
Completing the Challenge: Logging 60 minutes of activity at least 15 days a month
The free Healthy Futures Challenge runs each fall and spring for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. Students can count active time in gym class and during recess. They receive a prize each month for completing their activity log.
This school year, Play Every Day, Healthy Futures and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium are working together to share a 30-second video to encourage more schools across Alaska to sign up for the Challenge. The video also encourages parents to reach out to their children’s schools to support the Challenge. It features children being active in all kinds of ways in communities across Alaska, from Utqiagvik to Unalakleet to Bethel, Wasilla, Petersburg and Sitka.
Adding new prizes for the Healthy Futures Challenge
New this school year is a set of updated Healthy Futures prizes. Each month of the Challenge, students who complete a log will receive a colored gel art pen and a matching colored sticker. They can put the sticker next to their name on a classroom poster to recognize their participation, said Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures Coordinator.
Another addition is an end-of-year raffle for a grand prize. Students will get a raffle ticket after completing one month of the Challenge. They will write their name on the ticket and place it in a grand prize box supplied by the Healthy Futures program. At the end of the school year, school staff will draw a ticket for a grand prize. The winning student at each school will be able to choose from a menu of prizes, including a Healthy Futures Champion hoodie, disc golf set, cornhole set, and other outdoor games, Loran said.
Consistent participation in this year’s Challenge will give students better chances for winning a grand prize, while also encouraging them to build the habit of daily physical activity. There are six months of the Challenge in a school year: three in the fall and three in the spring. For each month of participation, students will get new pens in different colors and raffle tickets to sign and drop in the box. Students who complete more months of the challenge this school year will receive more tickets, which means more chances of winning the grand prize.
Elementary school coordinators will be entered into a grand prize drawing based on the percentage of student participation in their schools. Schools with high participation also receive banners to hang in their gyms to recognize their students’ commitment to physical activity.