WESTBROOK — Dressed in their winter boots, gloves and jackets on the coldest day of the year so far, the students of Canal School on Jan. 7 were set to take on winter. 

The elementary school was chosen as one of two schools to represent Cumberland County in this year’s WinterKids Winter Games. Throughout the four-week competition that runs through early February, students will compete in weekly challenges involving physical activity and healthy eating. Schools are competing for a $5,000 first-place prize, as well as second- and third-place awards, winter sports equipment, spirit awards and books about winter written by Maine authors.

“Engagement in outdoor play, activities and learning is so important at the elementary school level. The goal is to get the entire school and entire school community to embrace winter and find healthy ways to enjoy it,” said Julie Mulkern, executive director of WinterKids

More than 4,500 kids and 230 teachers participated in Winter Games last year. This year’s event is set to include more than 7,500 students at 31 elementary schools, including close to 300 from Canal School. 

Canal’s effort is being spearheaded by school nurse Ann Brown, school librarian Susie Brown and physical education teacher Jami Murphy.

Murphy said while she will meld the WinterKids challenges into her regular physical education instruction, the challenge also allows other teachers to include outdoor recreation into their instruction.

“We are getting our classroom teachers involved as well. It is a great school-wide experience. Everyone is doing something,” she said.

In terms of literacy, for example, students will take part in story walks and sentence scrambles in which they will race to collect part of a sentence to complete a story. Ann Brown said students will hear from representatives of the Good Shepherd Food Bank about food insecurity and local doctors about cardiovascular health. Students will create classroom cookbooks and also learn about winter animal adaptation from Wildlife Encounters, an ecology center in New Hampshire, and about animal tracks from Maine Audubon.

Susie Brown said there will be a number of free activities for families to take part in throughout the challenge, including early morning walks and Bingo Night. Students will also go home with a sheet of challenges to complete with friends and family.

“Having those activities for students to do at home is so important,” she said.

The students’ hard work over the month of January will conclude with a Winter Carnival, set for Wednesday, Jan. 30.

At the opening ceremonies Monday, Jan. 7, Canal students heard from municipal and school leaders who encouraged them to stay active and healthy throughout the month-long challenge. The Westbrook High School marching band performed and special video messages from Westbrook graduate and NFL player Trevor Bates and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins were played.

Ann Brown said Canal students are ready to compete.

“We have always been a school that can take a challenge and run with it,” she said.

Susie Brown said Canal would put any monetary prize it receives towards playground equipment. WinterKids encourages schools to money won for recreational or nutritional improvements.

Mulkern said the WinterKids staff was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm students and staff brought to their challenges last year, which was won by students at Dayton Consolidated School in Dayton.

“I can’t say enough how positive an experience this is for kids and adults to be involved in this. Canal School will be no different. They will love it,” Mulkern said.

The other Cumberland County competitor is the Burchard Dunn School in New Gloucester. Buxton Center Elementary School is competing for York County.

WinterKids, which started as a learn to ski program in 1997, has over the years expanded to become a non-profit that encourages students to stay active and healthy throughout the winter months, After more than 20 years in Portland, WinterKids moved to Westbrook in November, occupying space at 506 Main St.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Canal School students carry Canal School WinterKids banners during the opening ceremonies to the month-long WinterKids Winter Games in which students at 32 elementary schools across the state will compete in physical and nutritional challenges.

WMTW meteorologist Sarah Long peps up the Canal School crowd Monday by asking who loves winter. The students will be competing against their peers this month in the  Long will give weekly updates on the WinterKids Winter Games during her weather broadcasts. 

Canal School students hears from Trevor Bates, a Westbrook native who is playing in the NFL for the Detroit Lions, during the opening ceremonies of the WinterKids Winter Games. Bates shared with the students the importance of physical activity and healthy eating.

Students from Canal School get ready to take part in their first WinterKids Winter Games challenge Monday, a 60-second dance party in front of the school. Canal is one of 32 elementary schools competing in the exercise and healthy eating contest. 

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