When Dustin Davies moved to Old Crow 18 months ago to teach fitness at the local school, a simple game of tag would often deteriorate into a “complete disaster.”
“When I first got here and we played tag, kids wouldn’t admit that they were touched,” he said, while on a break between classes at the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School last week.
Tag is a very physical game, but it also requires the players to be honest — if they’ve been tagged they must admit they were tagged for the game to work,” said Davies.
“It was a complete disaster most of the time.
“People would come up to me crying.”
Those tiny obstacles and disagreements would cause the game to fall apart.
And since games like tag can increase cardiovascular fitness, kids were missing out on opportunities to improve their health.
So Davies began his tenure at the school by teaching the children how to play together, rather than how to win.
“Being healthy is much broader than your physical fitness, it’s about your emotional fitness,” he said.
“You can’t say to kids, ‘Be a team,’ or ‘Be leaders,’ if the activities in the community provided for them don’t teach teamwork.”
Davies, who has a background in teaching and wilderness guiding, came to Old Crow through funding raised by a group of local parents.
His original mandate was to run a program that would build athletes in the community, but the program’s goal has expanded since it began 18 months ago.
He decided to tweak the initiative so that all the children could participate rather than a select few.
Now, Chief Zzeh Gittlit offers after-school programs five days a week where children learn to play games like soccer, special skills like winter outdoor survival, and have healthy snacks like fruit and yogurt.
It attracts nearly 30 youngsters overall.
The program began as the brainchild of a group of local parents who lobbied to get it funded.
“I really believe that if we worked with the children at a young age, we could help their development,” said Glenna Tetlichi, one of the parents who lobbied to bring the after-school program to Old Crow.
And, because Tetlichi has two boys in the school, she wanted a program her kids could learn from and enjoy.
She sees it as a pre-emptive measure against problems like obesity and diabetes in the community.
It will also do much more than make the children run faster.
“I know that fitness carries out into other areas of their development — their health and also in their academics and character development,” she said.
Children learn those health and fitness skills the same way they learn anything else — through positive role models and practice.
Changing habits is a slow process and the first step is just being there, said Davies.
“The kids need games to teach teamwork and they need somebody there when things fall apart — to guide them through it.
“I feel that kids are allowed to play too much on their own, and kids won’t necessarily learn positive play behaviour without someone there to provide an adult insight into what’s going on.”
Davies and the young people plan to raise money for a trip to Whitehorse. They plan to use the city’s fitness equipment and catch a soccer tournament.
To make money, they’ll run a two-day impromptu restaurant out of the Old Crow community centre where the students will take orders, wait tables and cook the meals.
“It requires a lot of skills to be a good waiter; you have to watch people and you have to anticipate their needs.
“It’s the same skill that teaches people to pay attention to what’s going on around them in life and seize an opportunity.”
“Anything that improves the health and wellness of the children, I’m all for,” said school principal Gary Vokey.
“It’s more than having the program and it’s more than having the person to teach; we get a lot of support from the community.”
Davies has big plans for the program and he hopes to remain in Old Crow long enough to make them happen.
“I’m just one player working toward the goal of better success for Old Crow kids,” said Davies.
The after-school program has three years of funding to cover the costs for one paid staff member, snacks for the children and some equipment.
With just one year left of that term, Tetlichi says parents are trying to find new sources of funding.
Meanwhile, the next step for the new year is to work in partnership with community members to get parents and families involved in the program’s benefits.
“We need to work with the families so we are all giving the same message to the children about fitness, about nutrition and academic development,” said Tetlichi.