Young Scientists Walking Across The Country

Written by Rachel Soika
    Thursday, 25 April 2013
Young Scientists Walking Across The Country

If you have visited the Washington Park Branch within the last three months, you have probably noticed the big map hanging up on the divider in the main classroom. And upon closer investigation you may have wondered what in the world our Young Scientists are doing by walking across America? Well, three months ago on Martin Luther King Day, we embarked on a grand adventure to walk across the country.

Prior to Martin Luther King Day I landed one of 194 UnitedHealth HEROES grants through Youth Service America to help promote service and healthy lifestyles in youth to raise awareness for the prevention of childhood obesity. I mostly wanted to focus on healthy lifestyles and being active, which is pretty easy to do when you have access to the equipment lending program and a park that is full of opportunities.

To get the students even more excited on Martin Luther King Day, which was the kick off day for the grant, I started to ask them what states they have always wanted to visit and to start marking it on the map. They soon started to ask questions like, “why are you doing this?” and, “why does it matter?” So I revealed to them that we were going to walk across America!

Well, that got their attention. Soon questions were flowing as they were asking questions like “What!?” “Where are we going?” “Why are we doing this?” “Do we get to miss school?” “How long is this going to take?”… Laughing I told them we were not literally walking across America, but that we are going to use pedometers as a group and then mark it on the map. 

Geocaching in Washington Park
Geocaching in Washington Park to log extra miles

This made it even more exciting to them; having used these in gym class they all put one on and started running around the building comparing who went farthest. After the excitement died down a little bit I had them gather around the map and we tallied up our distances and started to mark our adventure that I designated to start at Mt. Saint Helens in Washington. Soon red dots were being put all over the map for where they also wanted to go; even a small excursion to Alberta Canada was added.

Each day the students filed in and told me how far they had gone during the day by walking to school, playing at recess, and even walking the dog. One student walked his dog two extra hours just to get a higher number on his pedometer. On top of that, he would run around the building and classroom before other students would show up just to get a few more feet. Even our High School Outdoor Leaders were starting to wear the pedometers and adding their distances as well.

Skiing for exercise... and fun!

We would go sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing when the weather allowed, and we explored different parks within 30 miles of Milwaukee on Saturdays. We looked up the states that we were “stopping in” in the encyclopedias when it was too cold to go outside and learned about the foods that were produced in each one, and what people did for activities in these states as well. And soon, the Young Scientists Club Recipes across America cookbook was born.

Every Friday the Young Scientists club in Washington Park makes food that consists of produce grown by the Young Scientist club in our very own learning gardens, or fresh produce from the store or farmers market depending on the season. Recently for Food Fridays we have been making healthy recipes from all of the different states that we have “visited” or plan to walk through. And we will continue to keep tracking our progress and making recipes past Global Youth Service Day which is the ending date of the grant. We have also been having monthly sessions with a local nurse who is helping to raise awareness about healthy foods, fruits, and vegetables as well as sugar and salt intake with plans of a food label reading relay race in the near future.

Although the grant’s time frame is ending on April 27th, the Young Scientists club invites all youth to come clean up the park on April 27th from 1-4pm where there will be t-shirts from United Healthcare through Youth Service America, and some snacks and the most updated cookbook available for free as well. 

The complete recipe book will soon be available online as well as a video of the Young Scientists clubs progress as they bustled across America by hiking, sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing. Or you could come check us out for yourselves as we continue to be active everyday playing games and exploring the park!

Rachel Soika

Rachel Soika

Rachel is a Community Program Educator at Washington Park. She enjoys gardening, backpacking, and wacky adventures outside with friends and family. And she is a graduate of University of Minnesota with a degree in Environmental Science Policy and Management with an emphasis in Environmental Education and Minors in Geography, Forest resources, and Fisheries and Wildlife management.


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