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Ecole Saint-Jean kids come together as “COVID Busters”

January 8, 2021   ·   0 Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened the spirits of six youth from École Elémentaire Catholique Saint-Jean, who are the brains behind COVID Buster, an online program designed to motivate people of all ages and physical abilities to be more active, while adhering to health regulations.

As part of their FIRST LEGO League Challenge, the team comprising Suzanne Northrup, Danielle Northrup, Claire McWhinnie, Kaiah-Marie Sanderson, Amelie Heng, and Thomas Patterson were tasked with coming up with an innovative project that would encourage them to look at their community and find a way to contribute positively to it.

“They must do some research, consult experts and create something innovative. They then have to share it with others. The idea is to get the students to be socially conscious and to take on a leadership role within their communities as problem solvers,” said Renée Northrup, parent coach and teacher at the Department of Mathematics at ÉSC Renaissance in Aurora.

The Grade 5-6 team did all that, and more.

“We started by identifying the problem: More and more people are not active enough, especially during the pandemic. So, we all brainstormed separately and all of us had great ideas. For example, we could install a tetherball game at bus stops, or we could find a way to encourage people to eat healthy. We could not just choose one idea, so we decided to put all our ideas together to create the COVID Buster program,” said Claire McWhinnie.

Suzanne Northrup added that the team chose to focus on physical activity because their research showed that people have not been active enough because of the pandemic. “We wanted to give an opportunity to people to be more active in a fun and engaging way,” she said.

The program was launched on December 1 and will be running until January 31.

221 participants have already signed up for the program, in four different age groups, from 5 to 100+ years old.

“We do have a few spots left in our program in the 18-64 age group and in the 65+ age group,” said Northrup. “In order to make the program accessible to everyone, adaptations are offered for the differently abled and participation in the program is free. Each participant receives a cotton bag and set of 16 unique badges at the start of the program, paid for by a 2020 Culture and Recreation Grant from the Town of Aurora, and sponsorship from l’AFRY, les Chevaliers de Colomb and Canadian Tire (Alliston).”

Participants complete as many of the 16 challenges in their age group as they can during these 62 days, and report their progress on the program’s website. After completing each challenge, participants pin the corresponding badge on their bag and the online leaderboard automatically updates their score. “The challenges are based on research completed by the students on physical activity, nutrition and sleep requirements for each age group. Examples of the challenges include shovelling snow for a neighbour, running during sunset or sunrise, plogging (jogging while picking up litter), finding a geocache while hiking in the woods, dancing, preparing a new healthy recipe, and sleeping for five consecutive days without screens in the bedroom,” explained Northrup.

The teamwork and camaraderie among the group is evident.

“We started by creating a Google Jamboard and then wrote down our ideas. For the badges, we went home with our button templates and drew the badges by hand. It was a lot of work, but it was fun too,” said Danielle Northrup.

Amélie Heng added: “We asked multiple individuals to look over our ideas and give us feedback on them. Once we had our first edition of the program written out, we found 16 testers to try out our program and give us feedback. The program is truly a group effort between our team and the community.”

The students’ efforts have been rewarded in many ways. Recently, the team learned that they secured first place in the FIRST LEGO League Ontario Remote Practice Event. They won the Robot Performance Award as well as the Champion’s Award.

“We are all very excited because it is a big step up for us. This is only our second year in this competition and it is open to all teams in Ontario. We are determined to improve our COVID Buster program and robot even more for our next tournament on February 22,” said Kaiah-Marie Sanderson.

Thanks to their unique program, the local community will be cheering them on.

People interested in participating can register on The program runs from December 1 to January 31.

Participants can start completing the 16 challenges any time during this period of time.

By Kinjal Dagli Shah



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