SOUTH PORTLAND — Skillin Elementary School, one of Maine’s largest and most diverse elementary schools, will represent Cumberland County and help to promote the 2018 Winter Games coordinated by the nonprofit WinterKids organization.

Winterkids selected 16 schools in Maine – one for each county – to participate in the four-week outdoor activity and nutrition challenge. Skillin will host the statewide Winter Games kickoff event Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. at the school on Wescott Road.

During the month-long competition, the schools will earn points when students and families participate in outdoor activities, healthy eating, school spirit events and other categories. The three schools with the most points will win cash prizes of $5,000 for the gold medal, $3,000 for silver and $1,500 for bronze.

Skillin students and staff members gathered in the schoolyard Friday, forming a 430-person snowflake that was photographed from above by drone to help promote the upcoming competition.

“Our entire school community is excited and thankful for this opportunity,” said Skillin Principal Bethany Connolly. “When we told the students they were going to compete in the Winter Games, they burst into applause.”

WinterKids is sponsored by Hannaford, L.L.Bean, TD Bank and Irving. School leaders are seeking additional support from local businesses and other partners to help fund or lead field trips for snowshoeing, ice skating and other activities, and to purchase sleds and other winter gear. Monetary donations, ideas and in-kind contributions are welcome.

Connolly said Skillin is a perfect fit for the competition because many students and their families struggle to stay active in winter. Nearly 60 percent of the school’s 380 students are considered economically disadvantaged. It’s also the most diverse elementary school in South Portland, with students from 29 countries of origin, including Angola, India and El Salvador. For some, this year is their first experience with winter weather.

For some students, Connolly said, one of the biggest barriers to staying active is the expense.

“Many families don’t have the means to participate in winter activities, especially ones that require equipment or travel, such as skiing, snowshoeing or skating,” Connolly said. “Another barrier is knowledge. People need to know what their options are for winter activities. The Winter Games is a chance for us to get creative and really break down those barriers.”

The other schools selected to participate in the 2018 Winter Games are: Park Avenue Elementary, Auburn, representing Androscoggin County; Fort Fairfield Elementary, Aroostook County; Kingfield Elementary, Franklin County; Miles Lane Elementary, Bucksport, Hancock County; Helen Thompson School, West Gardiner, Kennebec County; Vinalhaven Elementary, Knox County; Edgecomb Eddy Elementary, Lincoln County; Guy E. Rowe Elementary, Norway, Oxford County; Old Town Elementary, Penobscot County; Piscataquis Community Elementary, Guilford, Piscataquis County; Bowdoin Central School, Sagadahoc County; Margaret Chase Smith School, Skowhegan, Somerset County; Searsport Elementary, Waldo County; Alexander Elementary, Baileyville, Washington County; and Dayton Consolidated School, York County.

Business owners and others interested in supporting Skillin in the Winter Games may email Assistant Principal Sarah Maxwell at [email protected] or call 773-7375.