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EMS students in New Minas apply leadership skills through gaga ball pit construction project

NEW MINAS, NS - They came home from camp with newly instilled leadership skills that they quickly put to work to make a major improvement to their school grounds.

Thanks to a community effort that included students, Evangeline Middle School (EMS) in New Minas has a new piece of outdoor physical activity equipment that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Grade 7 homeroom teacher Freda Larade said Grade 7 students received a special last-minute invitation to attend the youth leadership program at the Tim Horton Children’s Camp in Tatamagouche free of charge. A trip was quickly organized.

“The commitment was to attend the camp for eight days, so we had four days in the fall and four days in the winter session,” Larade said.

The students were there to experience challenging teamwork activities and build leadership skills. There were eight “building blocks” to complete as part of their so-called smart goal. Three building blocks were completed in the first session and five in the second.

Larade said it was a great success. They were pleased with how the camp was organized and with how much the students learned and were able to bring back to the school. The students also fell in love with a gaga ball pit there.

“When we were there, we had to decide as part of our smart goal what were we going to do to bridge our leadership skills to the community so it would be blended,” Larade said.

She said that EMS isn’t blessed with an abundance of outdoor play equipment so the students decided they would help support a gaga ball pit project at the school.

Promoting physical activity

Erica Easton of Kentville, the mom of Grade 7 student Drew Easton, wanted to promote physical activity at the school outside the regular Phys Ed program and had already started work on an initiative to have a gaga ball pit built.

A gaga ball pit is an octagonal structure that acts as a ring to contain gaga ball games, a form of dodge ball where the goal is to hit opponents below the knees with a soft ball to eliminate them.

Easton procured an Active Kids, Healthy Kids grant from the County of Kings to help get the ball pit constructed. Larade also helped secure grant funding.

Easton said a lot of the students attend summer camps that have gaga ball pits and she heard several of them express that they would like to have a similar structure at the school. This was the catalyst for Easton’s efforts.

“Without having the play structures or basketball nets or other outdoor activities, they (the students) also thought that it would be a really good addition to the school,” Easton said.

With students rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help with the construction, the pit was built during the month of February. Easton said cutting the boards posed a challenge so she contacted the Flower Cart, which neighbours EMS, and invited the clients to help. She said they eagerly accepted.

“They were amazing to jump on board with us,” Easton said.

Learning to lead and having fun

Grade 7 student Drew Easton of Kentville said he enjoyed playing gaga ball at camp. In the past, they’ve set up benches in the school gym to create a makeshift gaga ball pit but “it’s not that tall and it’s not that good – and it hurts your hands when you hit it.”

He was involved in the construction effort along with his mom, dad, other students and community partners. Easton said he’s excited to have it at school and he can’t wait for it to be moved to its permanent location in the school yard so students can begin using it regularly.

Grade 7 student Abby Harrison of Port Williams said the Tim Horton leadership camp experience was really fun. They got to try many new things and take part in several activities that taught leadership skills. She feels that they learned a lot of valuable lessons to bring back to school and apply in the community.

With regard to the new gaga ball pit, she said it would be great to “have everyone be able to have this fun experience and to play this game.” She enjoys the competition and trying to stave off elimination.

Grade 7 student Paige MacDonald said being able to attend Tim Horton leadership camp for free was a great experience. She felt that the counsellors did a great job teaching leadership skills and how to apply so-called smart goals. She agreed that the gaga ball pit would be a great addition to the school.

“We haven’t had very much games and activities outside and we’re usually all stuck inside for a long time so having that to go outside and play around with your friends is real awesome,” MacDonald said.

Grade 7 student Stuart Walsh of New Minas said he also enjoyed the Tim Horton leadership camp experience, including playing gaga ball.

“It was fun, I got to hang out with lots of friends and the food was good and the counsellors were really nice,” Walsh said.

While at camp, they had to plan what their community project would be. Walsh said he “got kind of excited” when he heard it was going to be building a gaga ball pit.

“I think it’s great that they built it because now other people for years to come can use it,” he said.

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