The odds have long been stacked against the children of Gisborne, a city with the highest rate of childhood obesity in New Zealand, the second-highest rate of unemployment, and the lowest rate of life expectancy. But a new life skills programme run in schools may turn those statistics around.
Crackerjack Kids is a teaching resource that is currently undergoing a two-year pilot in 14 Gisborne primary schools. Developed by InnerFit, Crackerjack Kids offers physical education modules that fit within the New Zealand Curriculum and teach students important skills including self-control, respecting one another, becoming team players, and building confidence.
At Kaiti School, one of those involved in the trial, principal Billie-Jean Potaka-Ayton says the programme is already making a big difference to young learners. “We have noticed a huge improvement in fitness levels, students’ confidence to participate and contribute in a team environment, and these skills are moving into the classroom and other contexts.
“There has been a huge change in mindset around the teaching of PE (physical education) at Kaiti School. Before we would miss this lesson but now, no teacher misses PE because it is part of everyday and it is fun. We want our kids to value physical activity, hauora and well-being. I have seen a significant change in our teachers as well.”
Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti CEO Brent Sheldrake says Crackerjack Kids is “a real game changer”. “As a community we face many challenges. We have the highest percentage of low decile schools in the country, and there are many barriers to regular quality sport and physical education opportunities for our kids. If we can invest in initiatives like this, we can build the platform for a better future.”
At InnerFit, founder Ken Youngson says schools are a perfect fit for the programme. “School is the one institution that every single New Zealander has to pass through. It’s the most important place to ensure that young Kiwis are learning key skills that will give them a good start in life.
“The Gisborne region has some pretty damning statistics in terms of unemployment, drug addiction, obesity, and life expectancy. We don’t want to wait until it’s too late, or until these kids are getting locked up or getting into serious trouble. This is a preventative way of showing kids that they don’t have to make poor life choices.”