On a sunny Friday in May, students, staff, and volunteers came together at Whittier Elementary School in Waukesha to learn about building a healthy body and mind.
The event was United Way’s first-ever Field Day, featuring five interactive stations where students and community volunteers had the chance to plant healthy food, play team sports, and even practice yoga together.
Whittier second grader Lili Jauregui loved the day. “I learned about eating healthy and I learned a lot about being safe and how to have fun too!”
“All kids need to learn how to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Cynthia Stilling Gannon, Whittier principal. “In a school like Whittier, with about 80% of our students living in poverty, that lesson is even more important.”
“This Field Day is a wonderful opportunity to bring the community to our students to provide opportunities they may not get otherwise,” says Cynthia.
United Way partnered with YMCA of Greater Waukesha County to put on this fun event for students at Whittier. Staff from the YMCA led the team-building and yoga stations, and joined in the overall event planning.
“I hope these students learn how to work together and maybe learn something new about each other,” said Audra Bakalarks, YMCA Youth Outreach Director who led activities like the hula hoop pass at the team-building station on Field Day. “Whenever there are resources available for a school in Waukesha, I point them to Whittier.”
Along with 250 students and 50 volunteers, Whittier teachers had fun watching their kids interact and play.
“A super shy student really came out of her shell during the team building game. She has been working on building her self-esteem, so that was nice to see,” said Mr. Daniel Resch, a fourth and fifth grade teacher. “We are usually so focused on academics in the classroom, I love getting to experience my students just having fun.”
“As a result of the 2015 merger of United Way of Greater Milwaukee with United Way of Waukesha County, the new organization is able to bring more programs and services to benefit Waukesha County school-aged children,” says Jayne Thoma, VP of Volunteer Engagement.
In addition to activities like Field Day, United Way also provides books to students to encourage a lifetime love of reading. Research shows that the more books kids have in the home, the more school they complete overall. Additionally, when students read regularly, their scores go up in other academic subjects.
Through United Way’s Build My Bookshelf programs and Summer Reading book distribution, more than 1,500 Waukesha students have taken home 5,000 books to build their home libraries. United Way plans to continue and expand these programs in the years to come.
“As a former teacher, I know all too well that it takes a massive amount of work from skilled educators to teach kids to read well, and a slew of other supports and services so families and schools can create an environment where children can learn and grow,” said Jim McLaughlin, Education Portfolio Manager at United Way. “We are proud to put our resources to work for kids in need in Waukesha County.”
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