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WinterKids teaches nutrition and gets students outside

Teacher Gretchen Nickerson, who brought the program to her new school, said it's especially welcome in the wake of the pandemic.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An elementary school on a Wednesday can be its own kind of circus.

On one such Wednesday in January, Sylvio J. Gilbert Elementary School in Augusta was filled with the din of excited children.

Gretchen Nickerson has been teaching for 16 years. She cultivated some childhood joy when she moved to Gilbert Elementary and launched its WinterKids program this year.

WinterKids is an annual four-week challenge to get students outside and learn more about their food. Ten-thousand students across Maine are taking part in some way, and Gilbert Elementary in Augusta is one of 15 Maine schools competing for a piece of $30,000 in prizes. Nickerson wanted to make sure her school was among them.

"This community really just could use the support, the fun, and especially after COVID the last three years, some of these kids lost birthday parties," Nickerson said. "And, their last memories of doing fun things like this in school are, like, kindergarten, first grade."

During NEWS CENTER Maine's morning visit, sixth graders learned measurements before mixing fruit smoothies and delivering them to eager kindergarteners. Other grades ran relay races outside, cheering on classmates as they sprinted between cones.

And others learned about nutritional values in their foods, listening to substitute teacher and food science expert Haley Carver.

"If we had a generation of healthy kids that knew how important food is to the body, and how to use it to be healthy, we could change the world, honestly," Carver explained.

They'll start by changing a child's day.

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