RANGELEY – Rangeley Lakes Regional School has completed the WinterKids Winter Games Challenge for the third year in a row, and come in within the top three schools for the third year as well. It all culminated in a Winter Carnival on January 31 to celebrate their final week, which officially ended on February 2nd.
The school has been involved in WinterKids for several years, previously participating in the Play Along track, but for the winters of 2022, ‘23, and ‘24 they have been participating in the Competitive Track. Out of the 16 schools participating, Rangeley Regional came in third place in 2022 and second in 2023. They were aiming to move up into first this year, and have found out that they are in the top 3 but don’t yet know what place. They will find out for certain and receive their prize on Tuesday, February 13, and the news will be officially announced to the public on Wednesday, February 14.
Lindsay Richards, who serves as Rangeley Lakes Regional School’s physical education and health teacher as well as the school’s wellness coordinator, learned about the WinterKids Winter Games during her first year at the school in 2020. “We kind of did a pilot year and had fun with the activities, and 3 years ago we applied to be in the competition against other schools,” she told Mt. Blue TV.
WinterKids is a program designed to get children and families outside during the cold winter months. The WinterKids Winter Games Challenge has been going for 8 years, said Richards. Schools interested in participation apply in October and are announced in November. They then have “a PLAYBook and weekly rubric to guide [their] team to success,” according to the WinterKids website.
Richards finds the program particularly fitting for Rangeley. “It’s all about being healthy, active, loving the outdoors, and that’s kind of what Rangeley’s all about.”
Every year, WinterKids Winter Games has a different theme, but each week has its own focus of the week, and those remain the same from year to year. The overall theme for 2024 was “Little Things,” encouraging participants to take notice of how the small choices they make can make a big difference to those around them. This included not only outdoor activities, but also ongoing activities such as counting how many times they could hold a door open for someone or find someone to smile at throughout the day, said Richards.
As Winter Games always takes place in the first four school weeks of the year, the ways of participating in the challenges vary depending on what the weather that winter is doing. “We’re all very flexible here. We have five activities every week that we have to get in, and so sometimes our typical classroom schedule goes out the door and we all go outside.” Richards added that she finds the small school size beneficial because the classes can all participate together in some activities.
The celebration carnival included representatives from the Healthy Community Coalition in Farmington, who provided healthy snack options for the children.
In addition to the 5 regular activities they had to complete each week, each week always includes a bonus challenge for a bonus point that the judges across the state vote on. This year, Rangeley Regional came in as the runner up for the first week’s challenge, “Make something small into something large.” To do so, they had the participants all stand outside to form the outline of a giant snow angel, which was filmed from an aerial view by local construction worker and videographer Kyle Haley.
Volunteers like Haley are one of the things Richards values the most about the experience. “Everybody wants Rangeley to win so people are on hand,” she said as she praised the community support they received.
There is a leaderboard on the WinterKids website, but from the final week until the official final announcement, they keep the top three schools a secret. Rangeley Regional is currently not visible on that leaderboard, which makes sense since they learned earlier this week that they are, in fact, within the top three schools.
Every school that participates in the competition portion of WinterKids will receive a cash prize. This includes $5,000 for the first prize winner, $3000 for 2nd place, and $1500 for 3rd place. For this reason, according to their website, when selecting the schools that may participate, WinterKids prioritizes schools with “50% or greater free and reduced lunch, the least access to community resources and supports, adherence to the instructions outlined on our application, and proposals that include the improvement of students’ health and the school environment.”
Schools coming in 4th-10th will receive $750 and 11th-16th will receive $500, so being a competitive participant is beneficial for the school to some degree no matter where they place.
The real win, though, is getting to experience the nature around them, which is perfectly fitting with the 2024 theme of “Little Things.”
“We go for walks through our woods and we listen to birds, and we actually this year were out in the woods with 1st grade and deer were right there with us in our trail system, which is awesome, and without Winter Kids we probably wouldn’t have been out there doing one of our challenges, so it’s just amazing,” said Richards.
Richards ultimately summed up the benefits of WinterKids Winter Challenge, and this year’s theme in particular: “I think sometimes we take for granted the beauty around us and where we live because we have the mountains AND the water and I think sometimes we get going in our day to day and forget to pay attention to the little things and how much Rangeley has around us.”
Other schools in Franklin County participating include Academy Hill School in Wilton, participating in the competitive track, and Community Concepts Head Start in Farmington participating in the Play Along Track, according to the WinterKids website. For other schools participating, see the complete map at the bottom of the page at winterkids.org/winter-games or check out the leaderboard at winterkids.org/winter-games/leaderboard