I’ve been working with GYM for the last 3 months, but I only recently had the opportunity to experience the power of the program.
When I arrived at the mâmawêyatitân centre, the flurry of movement coming from the gymnasium pulled me in. Stepping inside, I was swiftly introduced to the group and made my way to the edge of the room to set up my camera and prepare to capture some photos of the activities.
The group was in the middle of talking about a new game, a conversation I promptly interrupted when I arrived. As I arranged my things, the discussion continued.
Shortly after, the kids and mentors were on their feet, organizing the equipment for the next game. The set up was simple: six pins lined either end of the gymnasium, each a different colour and with dice like dots marking every side. The children were to form two teams with the goal of knocking down their opponent’s pins with small foam balls. Whatever number the pin landed on when it fell would be the number of points that pin would generate for the team. Once the allotted time ran out, the points would be tallied.
The excitement and energy that filled the room was in stark contrast to the overcast, blustery day outside. The kids took to the game quickly, their shoes squeaking against the laminate floor as they raced to knock down the pins. I tried desperately to keep up with them as they played; pacing back and forth on the sidelines, my camera shutter clicking continuously.
The mentors -- highschool students employed by the program to provide leadership to the young participants -- were just as engaged in the game as the kids. They ran alongside the children, eagerly helping them knock down pins, tossing stray balls their way, and encouraging them.
It seemed as if nothing else mattered in those moments. The kids were unaffected by school troubles or friendship drama, instead engaging whole-heartedly in this cooperative game.
When a few rounds had concluded, it was time to tally the overall score: 52 points for team Smile and 44 points for team Colourful.
You would think the goal of the game would be to score the highest number of points, but that wasn’t true. Nor was the goal to score the fewest points. It was up to each individual kid to decide how they would view the game and interpret the score.
The afternoon finished off the kids helping tidy up before heading home with a healthy snack in their hands. The mentors swiftly cleaned and disinfected the equipment and packed up for the evening.
I had never seen a phys-ed program quite like that before. Instead of the typical competitiveness and sometimes aggressive nature of a traditional phys-ed class, this program centred on building social skills and getting active. By empowering youth through cooperation we create a positive environment for kids to be kids.