The kids race across the gleaming gym floor at Murphey Middle School and dive into the pile of plastic pictures of food in front of Schyler Jackson.
“Find the meat! Find the grains!” she exhorts them.
The Family Y of Greater Augusta is hoping the game teaches them something about nutrition and physical activity. After years of after-school programs in elementary schools, the Y is getting involved in middle and high schools, locally and nationally. In middle school, it could be things such as the National Football League’s NFL Play 60 program on good nutrition and being active. In high school, it is all about the future with SAT and ACT preparation, college visits and character-building exercises to prepare kids for life after high school, said Lakeisha Brown, the Y’s middle/high school program director.
“So when they graduate, they will be ready to go,” she said.
Middle school is a good time to start teaching them, said Jackson, who is a graduate student in kinesiology at Augusta State University and a youth development counselor for the Y.
“They can form their own opinions and then take what they know and implement it as best they can,” she said.
For instance, with nutrition, it is about teaching kids to think about what they are buying and eating and making the smarter choice within their budgets, Jackson said.
It is “letting them know that eating healthy is possible,” she said. “It helps with being able to purchase foods critically without spending too much money.”
The end result of the relay race across the gym floor was pictures placed on the appropriate poster board, with labels such as “meat,” “fruits” or “grains.”
“These are all good foods to eat,” Jackson said. The race also helped reinforce the idea of energy balance, the importance of both nutrition and activity for a healthy weight.
“I try to incorporate both of them in each activity I do,” Jackson said.
The children in the programs had to meet certain socioeconomic criteria because the Y “wants to service the kids that really need it the most,” Brown said.