Wildcat FUNatics! teaches healthy lifestyle skills

EVART — More than 40 Evart Middle School students are learning how to be healthy in and out of the kitchen with an after-school program that takes place each Thursday.

Wildcat FUNatics! is funded by a grant from the General Mills Foundation and allows an hour of physical activity, a snack and an hour of teaching culinary skills and nutrition.

"It's a fantastic thing that we can provide this opportunity to our kids," said EMS Principal Jason O'Dell. "It gives parents a way to give their kids something positive to do, like getting active and learning healthy lifestyles."

This is the second year the school has been able to offer the program due to the General Mills grant award, and the number of fifth-through eighth-grade participants has doubled.

"I think it's doubled because word got out that it's something fun for kids to do after school," said Michelle VanBuren, EMS physical education teacher. "It's something physical to do and they're learning how to eat healthy. The kids love it and look forward to it. Bless General Mills for giving us the grant two years in a row. This is great for the kids."

Students participate in a variety of physical activities to give them examples of different ways to stay active besides running. Dodgeball, bowling, roller skating, soccer and aerobics are part of the mix to teach the children life-long fitness options.

Following 60 minutes of active fun, students have a quick snack break before heading into the former home economics room. There, they learn kitchen cleanliness and sanitary practices and are tasked with creating simple, healthy food items. Basic knife skills, measuring ingredients and following directions of a recipe are some of the lifelong culinary skills taught in the time period. Instructors, including Jennifer Natale, encourage each student to try each item after completion, even if they don't like some of the ingredients.

Seventh-grader Darren Gostlin and eighth-grader Sydney VanBuren have positive remarks about Wildcat FUNatics! and have been a part of the program both years.

"I like that it's something fun to do after school," Gostlin said. "I'm not home alone doing nothing. It's nice to learn how to cook food."

Sydney agreed.

"I like it," she said. "It's really fun because we do a lot of activities and try new things."

Both said they have taken their new cooking skills from the classroom and into their homes.

Parents of students involved in Wildcat FUNatics! also are giving positive feedback, according to O'Dell.

"They think it's a wonderful thing and they're thankful we have something like this to offer," he said. "The proof is in the number of kids who are participating."

Apart from the program's obvious purpose of promoting wellness and nutrition, O'Dell believes the multi-age group of students helps promote a sense of family in the district as those students make friends across grade levels. In addition, being able to prepare and create meals and snacks for their family provides them with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

"We're so thankful to General Mills for this grant," O'Dell added. "We hope to keep our partnership with them and hope to grow the program even more in the future."