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Special day at Hampstead

Move everyday, feel good, develop your confidence – some of the messages broadcast during physical literacy event at Hampstead School

By Kristin McNeill

Hampstead Elementary School was a hotbed of activity January 25 when it opened its doors to other schools, special guests and the media to host “Physical Literacy is Everyday Life!” The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) sponsored a morning full of student demonstrations, motivational speeches from well-known sports celebrities and special visits to students in their classrooms by specially picked physical literacy ambassadors. The aim was to show how EMSB schools are applying a variety of strategies to incorporate more movement into the school day and to showcase its strength in exposing students to a variety of physical activity experiences.

Hampstead Elementary School, a leader in this area and the host school, had an opportunity to show off some of the ways it enhances physical literacy.

Principal David Lee welcomed guests in the packed gymnasium, where earlier his students had been doing demonstrations of movement games, such as rope-skipping, circus acts, stationary biking and drumming. He said with the physical literacy theme of this year’s EMSB press conference, held annually prior to Kindergarten registration week, his school had “a lot to offer” in physical literacy tools as a way to increase learning potential.

Joining the many Hampstead students in the gym were students from six other EMSB schools, namely Royal Vale, Elizabeth Ballantyne School, Parkdale, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Pierre de Coubertin and East Hill. These schools all participate voluntarily in the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur’s program “À l’école, on bouge!” which provides funding to schools that commit to offering 60 minutes a day of physical activity.

Evelyne Alfonsi, Deputy Director General of the EMSB, and Michael J. Cohen, the board’s Communications and Marketing Specialist, acted as MCs and welcomed the audience and introduced the 22 ambassadors, who would later answer questions from students in their classrooms. Special guests were also introduced. They included: EMSB chairman Angela Mancini, director general Ann Marie Matheson, several school commissioners and Hampstead councillor Michael Goldwax. Politicians present were MP Anthony Housefather and David Birnbaum, MNA.

Mancini summarized the EMSB’s four pillars that support physical literacy in its schools, including the most important – its Physical Education and Health program. Here is where students learn the most basic movement skills, which they can then apply in a variety of physical activity settings throughout their life. Mancini described the 60 minutes a day of physical activity initiative, participation in inter-scholastic sports and additional outdoor education programming. She also spoke about physical activities that take place within the classroom and the long-standing tradition of EMSB’s participation in the annual Halo road race. Mancini said the school board is the only one to have a full-time Physical Education and Health Consultant (Katherine Baker). She said these reasons were “why moms and dads chose EMSB schools.”

Baker was next on the stage to introduce schools who would demo examples of physical literacy activities. Several Grade 6 Hampstead students performed circus acts from their Phys. Ed. class, which involved balancing on and pedalling a large tube. Batons, juggling and plate-spinning added to the demo, showing a mix of individual skill-building and teamwork.

Next up was Pierre Elliott Trudeau school, whose eight Grade 2 and 3 students did a complex skip-rope routine.

The student segment ended with Baker and Hampstead Phys. Ed teacher Mike Creamer, who invited the audience to take part in a “brain break” activity, used by teachers to get students up and moving in the classroom. Audience members were asked to get up off their seat for a math-infused game of “Rock, paper, scissors.” The gym buzzed with action as everyone joined in.

Stu Cowan, sports columnist for the Gazette, was introduced by Cohen and Alfonsi. He said “the old school gym brought back memories,” with a particular recollection of rope burn from climbing up the floor-to-ceiling ropes, an activity he remembered from his school days.

Cowan, in turn, introduced three celebrity athletes – Kim St-Pierre, Rick Green and Kavis Reed – to address the young students in the gym about how their careers evolved by being physically active. He also brought on to the stage two politicians who shared their views of why physical literacy is important.

A former member of the National Women’s Hockey Team and Olympic medallist Kim St-Pierre had a resounding message for young people: Don’t specialize in a sport too early. Case in point. She enjoyed playing many different sports growing up, but it was only in high school that she zeroed in on hockey as her chosen sport. Her successful career went from goaltending for the McGill University Martlets to becoming a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a leading goaltender for the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team. Her message to the kids in the gym “I want to encourage you to be active and healthy. And it starts at the school level. Every day you need to move. Every single day.” And she advised “those sitting on the side” (the adults, special guests, dignitaries) that they should also move every day.

St-Pierre also paid kudos to the EMSB by suggesting other school boards follow its lead in promoting physical literacy.

Speaker Rick Green was also adamant that being active is essential for good health, both physical and mental. The former defence player for the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals, 1986 Stanley Cup champ on the Habs team and later assistant coach for that team, Green recounted “My path was determined through a lot of exercise in my youth. I was able to continue to play in higher levels every year through discipline and keeping active.” And his message especially directed to the young students was “do the best you can every day, keep active and enjoy having fun.”

Former player and coach in the Canadian Football League and now general manager and vice president of football operations for the Montreal Alouettes, Kavis Reed, introduced two of his players in audience, Jean-Gabriel Poulin and William Stanback. Physical literacy helps with self-esteem, he said. He described the players as not just being in good physical shape, but having confidence, feeling good and taking a holistic approach to their well-being.

David Birnbaum, minister of the National Assembly representing the district of D’Arcy-McGee, which includes Hampstead, was “pumped” about the subject. He described the initiative to promote physical literacy as “so innovative, so important.” He said “I look at you guys,” referring to the young students in the gym and after the demos of physical literacy initiatives, “This is how you work. This is how you tick. You move, you laugh, you jump, you run.”

To a hearty applause, Birnbaum also said he hoped “the ministry [of Education] was listening,” referring to the EMSB as a role model for public school boards in cultivating physical literacy initiatives, which he described as a successful cooperation between school administrators, teachers, parents, communities and corporate leaders.

Another guest politician to address the crowd was member of Parliament Anthony Housefather, who spoke about not only the “vital role that EMSB plays for students in school but for all the English-speaking communities in Quebec.” Housefather, a competitive swimmer who won five medals at the most recent Maccabiah Games in Israel, advised young people “when you grow up, you have to keep involved in sports.” Being physically fit is as important as being mentally active and emotionally happy. “They all go together.”

After the presentations, Evelyne Alfonsi mingled with the students and invited them to participate in a quiz on the topic. Among the questions and answers was: “Why is physical education and health an important subject in school?” Volunteered one student, “It’s good for your body and gives you a lot of energy.” Another question was: “What signs does your body give that you’re working hard?” One answer was “You ache!” and others chimed in, adding sweating, heart rate increase and “feeling stronger” provided other evidence of physical activity.