For five years the free Summer Wisdom & Wellness Program has been running strong at Howard-Winneshiek Community School District, thanks largely to financial assistance from sizeable grants received through organizations like the Howard County Community Foundation as well as HAWC Partnerships for Children.
The Wisdom & Wellness Program this year runs Monday-Friday, June 6-June 30, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., offering organized activities for youth (grades K-3 & grades 4-8), and is held in conjunction with the Summer Nutrition Program that is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Any child from anywhere (ages 1-18) can come to the cafeteria at Crestwood High School for breakfast (from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and/or lunch (from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Monday-Friday, starting May 31 through Aug. 22 to eat free-of-charge. Children are not required to attend either program everyday, but are encouraged to attend whenever they can. Parents or others over the age of 18 may purchase a meal after all children are served for $3.50 for lunch, and $1.85 for breakfast. You do not have to be a participant of the Wisdom & Wellness Program to eat breakfast and/or lunch.
While the Summer Nutrition Program looks to be secure for next year because of the high rate of students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch, the Wisdom & Wellness Program, however, is in question, because grant funding is no longer available through HAWC, leaving officials in the district to search for alternative financial assistance in order to keep that portion of the program up and running beyond summer 2016.
Nutrition Director Cheryl Dickman notes she is applying for alternative grants, hoping to secure funding for the Wisdom & Wellness Program for next year, but she stresses, if funding is not secured the program might not continue.
“Most of the grants I’m working on are smaller,” she advised, “and they come in little bundles of about $250, but we have higher expenses than that. I think our biggest challenge, this year, is going to be in regard to the field trips we take. We like to take at least one field trip per week, per age group.”
Field trips are still being planned for this summer, however, kids who participate in the Wisdom & Wellness Program at Howard-Winn traditionally have opportunities to visit nearby historical and educational attractions. For example, one highlight of the program has been a field trip to Niagra Cave in Harmony, Minn. The kids love to go there because it’s something that gets them to be physically active, it’s a cool place to go on a hot day, the visuals are stunning, and they are learning something new – “but that comes at a cost,” said Dickman.
Other highlights, that come at no or lesser costs, have included visits to the Cresco Public Library; the Prairie’s Edge Nature Center in Vernon Springs, Iowa; the Boyhood Home of Norman Borlaug near Protivin, Iowa; the Mighty Howard County Fair in Cresco, Iowa; and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum in Burr Oak, Iowa. The Huhe family has also allowed the kids to visit their dairy farm, the McGee family has brought their petting zoo to the school for the younger kids, and the older kids get to go to Lake Hendricks in Riceville, Iowa, for fishing.
Children also have opportunities to participate in arts and crafts and science-orientated activities, and they even learn about gardening.
“The older kids will be planting cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers that the school can use for meals,” Dickman said. “Towards the end of summer, the kids do get to see some of the items they planted being served through the Summer Nutrition Program.”
Main expenditures of the Wisdom & Wellness Program include the cost of field trips and transportation, as well as the cost of teachers.
“It’s a lot of fun for the kids,” said Dickman. “It’s getting to be known throughout the state that we have a really good summer program going, but I’m concerned about the [financial] sustainability of it. It’s a great thing when you have the money to do the program, but all of a sudden you start to worry about keeping it going year after year and you know that local businesses are being asked all of the time for contributions, so we’ve tried to stay away from that so far – but next year might be a different story.”
Source: Howard-Winneshiek CSD news, 5/20/16.