The month of May normally sees grades 4 and 5 students in the Gulf Islands working to improve their results in track and field events in anticipation of the district-wide meet at Portlock Park.
Although the track meet could not take place this year while instruction has been done by distance, students have nonetheless been running and jumping for the first ever Gulf Islands Virtual Track and Field Meet. The project organized by Salt Spring Elementary School teacher Tanya Grant and district educational assistant Jill Schulze invites kids to practise good sportsmanship, cheer on their classroom teams and have fun, and is raising funds for local food programs at the same time.
“One of the reasons we are proceeding with the annual event in a different format is to build some community amongst students working from home, and we are hoping to fundraise money for the food bank,” said Grant, who said families are reporting students are feeling the lack of access to their social groups.
“The reason we thought it was important was because it’s something that brings all the kids together,” added Schulze. “It’s a community-building thing — it always has been.”
School District 64 teacher Jim Lightfoot started the track meet initially for grades 4 to 7 back in 1987, but just for students who wanted to participate, with extra events for grades 6 and 7.
“As you can imagine it was a busy day with all those students at Portlock,” Lightfoot said.
When the middle school was created a few years later and elementary schools changed to being for kindergarten through grade 5 students, the district began a track meet for those grade 4 and 5 students who wished to attend.
“A few years later we decided as schools to ask all grade 4 and 5 students to participate in the track and field meet so that they could try some events, plus they could be there to encourage their school mates. This is the format we’ve continued to have since then and our meet has always been at Portlock,” Lightfoot explained.
With the gathering of large groups still not possible, the virtual meet has provided the opportunity for team-building within classes and for fostering community across schools through online entries. Grant extended invitations to the virtual meet to all grade 4/5 classes in the district. Students could choose a minimum of two out of five events — distance run, sprint, ball throw, standing long jump and standing high jump — with age-appropriate criteria. They were to submit their results along with a photo to their teacher by May 28.
The track meet has also provided a fun way to help parents get kids active while doing their learning at home.
“It’s an important piece of what families are trying to build into their routines, for sure. The training can help them get out on a daily basis and there’s a purpose as well,” Grant said.
The 2020 track meet has further recognized pandemic challenges for families in being a fundraiser for Salt Spring Community Services’ Harvest Program, which includes the food bank and other food security programs benefitting islanders in need.
“Many teachers are donating one dollar per student who participates in the event from classroom accounts. Some are looking for pledges from friends and family to match classroom participation,” Grant said, noting if every grade 4 and 5 student on Salt Spring winds up participating, that would mean a starting donation of $200.
Grant and Schulze hope other people in the community will match school donations to the food bank. Individuals could make a donation to match that of a single class of 25 students or the district’s participation as a whole. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.