Arlington School's footsteps feed families around the world
At Arlington Elementary School, the students in Suzanne DaSilva's fifth-grade class are saving lives around the world, one step at a time. Thanks to the receipt of a grant from UNICEF, which was applied for this past fall by Julie Ferns, the school's Physical Education/Health teacher, every student in DaSilva's class has received a Power Band to wear on their wrist, (similar to a FitBit), which tracks their steps every day while in school.
"I wanted to get the kids thinking more globally, thinking about helping others," said Ferns. "The fifth-graders are more mature and can handle having the bands on and not having them distract them throughout the day. All day long while at school, the bands track their steps, and for every so many steps they unlock power points which equate to a food packet to feed a malnourished child."
Corporate sponsors honor the cost of the packs of food for the malnourished children, and Target sells the Power Bands for the program. The students worked together to pick a mission from the UNICEF Kid Power site (unicefkidpower.org/), which would benefit from their steps. Their chosen mission was Friendship Games.
According to DaSilva, the food packets contain ingredients high in protein and vitamins and are about 500 calories each, specially designed to help nourish children who are malnourished. Every 2,400 steps, power points are earned and one food packet is awarded. The students sync their Power Bands daily.
"The great thing is, they are feeding children who are in the countries that their families are from, because the countries they are targeting with their charity are Haiti and the Dominican Republic," said Ferns. "There are families who have gone out and purchased the same bands their children have, and have synced them to the app also, so that they too, can help feed malnourished children."
Ferns believes that although she initially was the one who applied for and received the grant, putting it into action has been a team effort and keeping the program running would not be possible without the support of her colleagues.
"Beth Grabert is our librarian. She's been my tech support throughout this whole thing," Ferns said. "Suzanne DaSilva has been on board since Day One, and has supported our efforts completely." DaSilva has been disappointed by the recent weather, which has impeded their plans for outdoor walks which would have connected with science and nature learning as well, but she said it hasn't stopped them from finding ways to grab some extra steps while indoors for now.
Although some schools who are involved have their students take their Power Bands home with them, the program at Arlington is just for in-school hours, making what the students have accomplished already, that much more impressive.
"We are doing all of this hard work just during school hours," said DaSilva.
Ferns receives daily communication from the program, and notified the students that just last Friday she received an email stating that so far students who are participating in the program have collectively unlocked more than 400,000 lifesaving nutrition packets for malnourished children, with an average person needing 150 packets as a course of treatment over one month's time.
"Already students have saved the lives of thousands," said Ferns.
As Ferns and her team look ahead to the rest of the school year, she is excited to see the kids' steps next week during the annual Jump Rope for Heart event, and for the weather to change over to spring, allowing them to spend more time outside.
"Between their regular required health and PE time, their extra effort in the classroom with getting steps, and the targeted enrichment time I'm giving them, they're really making a difference," said Ferns. "We will keep this program going from now through the end of the school year, and see where we can go with it from there."