It’s not clear which came first, soccer or Iceland. There’s roughly 1,100 years of data, folklore or solid history for each organization, although for sixth-grade student Franklin Carpenter, the pick is simple: soccer.
That was his main motivation for participating last year in 5th Gear Kids, a joint program between schools in Aurora and the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. The program was created last year by doctors and fitness officials as a way to motivate and incentivize fitness and healthy food choices in fifth grade students.
“I think it’s good to be healthy,” Carpenter said.
His pick all last year was to participate in as much soccer as he could. As often as he could, Carpenter played soccer for an hour after school, earning him 150 points and recording his activity on sheets that he’d hand into his teacher. He also took his sheets to the grocery store to record the more nutritious food he was helping pick out for his family. That earned him points too.
He said he was already a healthy eater — his family eats a “weird” mix of fruits, vegetables and pasta anyway — but 150 points at a time, Carpenter inched closer to his goal of 20,000 points, which was enough to earn him a bicycle. Actually, Carpenter made it to 20,000 points faster than he imagined. He earned one bike, then decided his brother needed one too. So, 150 points at a time, an hour of soccer a day, Carpenter earned another 20,000 points to award his brother with a bicycle too.
“Actually, I forgot all about Iceland,” he said.
Carpenter forgot that organizers like Kenny Webb, who is the 5th Gear Coordinator for Aurora Public Schools district, and Thrudur Gunnarsdottir, who is the program manager for 5th Gear Kids at the Anschutz Wellness Center, offered the highest point-getter a free trip to Iceland. After more than 40,000 points — which on soccer alone is nearly 300 hours — Carpenter was notified at the end of the year that he had won. The North Middle School student, who participated in the Aurora Lights program, a health and sciences pathway at the school, was excited about the prospect of going to the island in an airplane — his first plane ride — and seeing the road that winds around the entire island — “that’s cool,” he said.
Carpenter and his older sister, Cheyenna Daigle, left Dec. 11 for Iceland and a five-day trip to the island.
Webb and Gunnarsdottir said the program, which is in its second year this year, has been a success at Aurora schools.
“It’s changing the little things that have made the difference,” Webb said. When children saw other children earning points by walking the family dog, they started participating together to earn together. Then families got involved and it became a healthy activity, he said. Participation at home bookends the curriculum they teach at school, Webb added. Classroom instruction focuses on “energy balance,” or expending as many calories as you consume, and healthy food choices.
Gunnarsdottir said the participation rate in the 26 schools was around 27 percent last year. This year that participation has skyrocketed to 60 percent and 5th Gear Kids now extends to 70 schools.
“For us, this would be a way to make healthy habits last a lifetime,” she said. “I think we’re doing that.”