Editor’s Note: The success of the summer Wisdom & Wellness Program at Howard-Winn is attributed to the crew of associates and students who teach the program. The leaders include current Crestwood high school students as well as alumni, like Lauren Obermann, who was an active FFI team member when she was in school.
Area youth participating in the Summer Wisdom & Wellness Program at Howard-Winneshiek Community School District once again had the opportunity to enjoy a fun-filled, activity-packed month of June. Organized activities this year included fieldtrips to Niagra Cave in Harmony, Minn., the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Burr Oak, Iowa, and the Mighty Howard County Fair in Cresco, Iowa, to name a few.
The Wisdom & Wellness Program, which recently concluded its fifth consecutive year at Howard-Winn, coincides with the Summer Nutrition Program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Nutrition Director Cheryl Dickman typically begins the planning stages for the program in March each year, seeking a variety of activities for kids to experience within the community and surrounding area in an effort to keep them excited about participating.
“I thought we did very well this year,” the director said, noting the younger kids had a blast at the county fair, and the older kids had the opportunity to go fishing and visit the Fish Hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. “Next year, we’re considering finding a place for the kids to play miniature golf. There’s all kinds of things to do in Northeast Iowa.”
Dickman attributes the success of the Wisdom & Wellness Program at Howard-Winn to the crew of associates and students who assist, including Crestwood graduates: Ben Andera, 28, a mathematics instructor at Don Bosco School in Gilbertville, Iowa; Megan Novotny, 19, a student pursuing a teaching degree at the University of Northern Iowa; and Lauren Obermann, 20, also a student pursuing a teaching degree at Wartburg College.
“What they did was miraculous,” Dickman said, noting she is particularly pleased with the program this year. “They all did a wonderful job keeping the kids involved, and I’m very proud of them.”
Andera has been an instructor with the Wisdom & Wellness Program since it started at Howard-Winn five years ago. “When you take a kid fishing and they catch a fish, seeing the smile on their face – that’s awesome,” he said. “Or when you plant something in the greenhouse and it actually grows – the kids love that.”
Learning about gardening!
The instructor says the educational setting is beneficial for students, even during the summer. “They have to share, listen, be kind, and follow directions, and I think that’s awesome,” he said, noting that each child also had the opportunity to have a good, healthy meal in the school cafeteria following the activities each day.
Obermann has assisted with the program since its start as well. “I think this year was our most successful year,” she said. “We’ve had the most kids attend this year, and we’ve had a lot of activities planned for kids in both age groups (grades K-3, and grades 4-8). We split the month of June into four different weeks, and each week had a theme. For example, our first week for the younger kids was Science Week, the second week was Arts & Crafts Week, the third week was Nature Week, and this last week involved cooking and wellness activities.”
Obermann enjoys spending the month with the kids. “They are so full of energy and I think we’re all exhausted when we get done, but it’s a lot of fun!” she said, adding, “We’ve had some kids who started with us the first year we offered the program, and they’ve been here all five years, and we’ve had a lot more younger kids than we used to.”
Novotny, who has also assisted with the program for five years, appreciates seeing the kids get excited about the activities each year, and hearing from them that they are having fun. “I really like it when their parents come in and say, ‘Thank you,’ or ‘The kids had fun today,’ so we know the kids are relaying the message to their parents that they are having fun,” she said. “I think a lot of the kids might not get to do these activities without the program.”
High school students, Isaiah Passmore, 16, and Michaela Pinter, 16, were also on-hand to assist.
Passmore says it’s rewarding to see the kids engaged in the activities. “They listen, get stuff done, and enjoy the program,” he said, further recalling when he was a participant in the program in its infancy at Howard-Winn. “I’ve been a volunteer now for the last two years,” he said. “Will I come back next summer? Yes.”
For Pinter, her favorite part about the program is being around the kids. “This was my first year as a volunteer, and I just loved to get to know the kids, and to do all of the fun activities where you can see them bring in their own personal understandings,” she said, noting she also plans to assist with the Wisdom & Wellness Program again next summer.
Dickman says the program seems to improve each year. “Then we have to top that the next year and that gets tougher and tougher,” she laughed, “so if anybody has any ideas, I say, ‘Let me know!’ Especially for fieldtrips, because the kids love their fieldtrips.”
These days, Dickman further explains, it can often take two parents to work in order to provide for their families, and she is hoping the summer programs at Howard-Winn are helping to take some of the weight off of parents’ shoulders by providing fun activities and healthy meals for children.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the kids grow and mature into young ladies and gentlemen,” she said. “Just like Isaiah Passmore. It was fun to watch him go from grade school level to where he’s at now, assisting with the program.”
While the Wisdom & Wellness Program has concluded for this year, the Summer Nutrition Program lunches will continue at the high school for the rest of the summer – from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Friday, Aug. 21. The new school year begins on Monday, Aug. 24.