An innovative before-school fun and fitness program set up at Prairiewood High School by Aboriginal teacher Jarred Hodges has been running for 10 years. It now attracts more than 200 students each morning.
The fun and fitness program operates every Tuesday and Friday morning before school during Term Four. After an hour of games and fitness, the students have a healthy breakfast of fruit, cereal and toast.
There are 1000 students at Prairiewood High School in Greater Western Sydney and 23 identified enrolled Aboriginal students. Almost all of the Aboriginal students participate in the program and there are currently about 230 students who attend. It is well supported by the other school staff members, who give up their time in the morning to assist the teachers who run the program.
Jarred says the popularity of the program stems from the enthusiasm of the staff.
“I am enthusiastic myself and that flows through to the other staff. We aim to have a good time. This is the same with anything – if it is fun, the kids want more of it,” he says.
Jarred said he set up the program to give the kids some healthy messages rather than the unhealthy food choices they are bombarded with on television and elsewhere.
“I was noticing the rise in childhood obesity. Also the school is across the road from a big shopping centre and kids were walking in each morning with hot chips and soft drinks. I felt I needed to do something proactive in order to try and make some change in their behaviour,” Jarred says.
“When you’re potentially feeding 220 kids in the morning – it’s hard work. I have to be there at 6.15am to set it up, but then we just lay it all out and the kids help themselves. At breakfast there is a healthy selection of fruit, such as watermelon, rockmelon, grapes and oranges, as well as cereal, juice, water and toast. We train from 7am to 8am and there is a small window for them to eat before school starts.”
Jarred said the sessions take a games approach, mixed in with various aerobic activities.
“We play touch footy and traditional ball sports – anything that encourages movement and coordination,” he says.
“They arrive at 7am and mark their own names off on the roll themselves so there is ownership on their behalf with everything.”
Jarred says the program has improved students’ engagement with school.
“There are educational benefits right across the board for those who participate. Students who struggle for motivation… their energy levels and concentration have improved, so there is a chance to increase their learning,” he says.
“We see positive changes flowing through – kids are bringing fruit into the playground and eating healthier food now. We have not had any problems with student behaviour during the sessions. They all like being there.”
Jarred buys the food every Sunday from Aldi. He says it costs about $500 a week.
“It is self-funded. The kids pay $2 each week to be a part of it,” he says.
“The program has done a lot for the students in this area and provides many of them with a healthy breakfast that some of them may not otherwise have access to.”
Jarred is passionate about helping young people. He also coaches state and national teams as part of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team.