Members of the Wilmot Union High School football team lead a group of Randall School students in calisthenics.

Area teens help grade schoolers make healthy choices

By Jason Arndt

Building social skills and encouraging healthy choices are key components to developing grade-school children into positive citizens later in life, according to the Department of Public Instruction, which says students spend a large portion of their awake hours in school classrooms.

Student manager Emily Mulhollon of the Wilmot football team gets her kicks in with two Wheatland Center School students.

With school consuming such a significant portion of their time, children often look at teachers and administrators as influential figures, and go even further to include older students.

Many area high schools recognize the need to promote physical and mental wellness, including Wilmot Union, Burlington and Westosha Central.

Recently, Wilmot started a program known as Panther Pals, which allows members of the football team to visit area feeder schools where they have encouraged physical fitness and inclusion.

Feeder schools receiving the benefits of Panther Pals were Riverview, Wheatland, Lakewood and Randall schools, with Trevor-Wilmot planned in the future, according to Wilmot Communications Specialist Erin Cullen.

“This program is helping to build and strengthen relationships, not only between younger students and high school students, but among the schools themselves,” Cullen said. “Panther Pals encourages a healthy, active lifestyle, but also works to promote involvement and inclusion.”

At Riverview in Salem Lakes, Principal Andrea Zackery said Panther Pals encourages students to increase physical activity, and how to conduct themselves later in life.

Panther Pals, which also works with Riverview students on basic alphabet and math problems, coordinated playground activities with physical education teachers.

“The Wilmot students demonstrated how to complete tasks and then assisted students at stations,” said Zackery, who reports Panther Pals showed her students how to stay fit in physical education classes. “They also took the 4K students out to the playground to do some physical activities.”

The Panther Pals visit, according to Zackery, served as a valuable motivational tool for students.

“I feel the Panther Pals served as great role models to the elementary students. They demonstrated the importance of physical activity, learning and appropriate behavior,” Zackery said, adding the football players were patient and offered words of encouragement. “This program serves as a positive way to show our students how they can conduct themselves when they are in high school and opportunities they will have at Wilmot.”

“Our elementary students look up to high schoolers and this program helps to promote positive attributes,” she said.

Meanwhile, at Wheatland Center School, Principal Drew Halbesma said having Panther Pals pay a visit offered physical education teachers another tool in helping his students bolster physical fitness.

“The time of day that Wilmot’s Panther Pals were able to come matched up nicely to our kindergarten and first-grade physical education classes,” Halbesma said. “Since the Panther Pals are mostly athletes, we thought that this would be a good fit.”

Along with promoting physical fitness, and encouraging an active lifestyle, Halbesma said students learn teamwork skills, which strengthened relationships between the two groups.

Additionally, with student-athletes showing up in their jerseys, Halbesma said it motivated his students to look into the future, including possibly joining an athletic team.

“I remember, as a kid, having the high school football players come into my elementary school with their jerseys on and couldn’t wait to be older and be able to wear my own jersey on Friday nights,” he said. “I think it’s great to give some kids that same motivation.”

Panther Pals, however, is not the only high school group to reach out to the Wheatland school community.

A member of Burlington High School’s Partners2 program showcases a shirt, which illustrates central theme, Transformed by Courage. The theme was cho-sen as a way for students to show it takes courage to make changes and learn needed life skills.

Mental Health wellness
Annually, Westosha Central’s Peer Helpers offer guidance on how to refrain from drug use, Halbesma said.
Wheatland fourth-grade teacher Nicole Curran, who has seen Peer Helpers deliver presentations, said the students raise awareness on the dangers of drug use.

Curran said Peer Helpers “do a nice job explaining why drugs should be avoided. They also work with fourth graders using interactive activities.”

After activities, which include role-playing, Wheatland students receive a “Pledge to Stay Drug Free” certificate to take home.

The two groups, Halbesma said, set a positive example for students as they transition to high school.

“This type of interaction with students from both Central and Wilmot really help our students envision themselves in high school someday,” he said. “One big benefit is for our kids to have positive role models of how a high school student should present themselves.”

At Burlington High School, at least 30 students are involved in Partners2, a program designed to foster healthy life choices inside and outside the school hallways.

Christina Converset, coordinator of Partners2, said students serve as peer mentors who attend afterschool meetings to learn more about leadership and develop a presentation program at area middle schools.

“We reach out to area grade schools, primarily middle school students on an as needed basis,” she said. “When a school wishes to have a specific presentation or program they will contact me and I’ll find a presentation.”

Past presentations included internet safety, social media concerns, anxiety and general mental health issues facing students and parents, the opiate epidemic, personal protection for high school women, and relationship life skills.

“We try to be very active with the middle school students since we see use of substances and availability earlier,” Converset said.

In the past, Partners2 has delivered presentations at St. Mary’s, St. Charles, Karcher, Dyer and other grade schools in both Racine and Kenosha counties.

Additionally, before middle school students move to either Burlington Catholic Central or Burlington, they conduct transition presentations.

While they present researched information, some have also shared personal experiences, she noted.
Courtesy of Partners2, Converset believes the entire community has seen benefits, including members themselves.

“Our teens feel like they are part of a larger picture, to give them the opportunity to reach out and share their own personal story or share information they have researched means they are making a difference in trying to create positive cultural change for the whole community,” Converset said.

Partners2 also has 10 students participating in the Teen Voice, which allows them to speak their opinions on various municipal boards and about 20 adults or near-peer-mentors who volunteers to help allow the program to work efficiently.

Peyton Hermann, of Riverview, receives help zipping her coat from Wilmot student Cole Nichols.

More to come
For Wilmot’s Panther Pals, the school plans to continue the program through the rest of the school year.

“This winter you will see new student athletes and coaches involved, as well as some returning favorites,” said Cullen, who noted some of the football players are multi-sport athletes.
Halbesma welcomes the continuous support, adding it also benefits the teams involved.

“Having been a high school coach prior to becoming an administrator, I’ve seen the power that giving your time to volunteer away from the grind of practice and playing schedule can have for a team,” he said.


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