Wareham Middle School student wins grant for healthy initiative

Dec 4, 2017

A Wareham Middle School student brought a fresh idea to a competition in Boston last week: Retain-it Zones.

A Retain-it Zone, said eighth grader Stephen Sprague, would provide a five-minute break for students between classes. It provides time to think about the concepts learned in the previous class and to process things a student is struggling with. These quiet moments, with teacher supervision, can help students stay focused and quiet their minds, Sprague said.

It was an idea he pitched at a GENYOUth event at Northeastern University Nov. 28. Five Wareham Middle School students attended the event with physical education teacher Nichole Stahmer. They were the only middle school students at the event, as their 50 competitors from around 10 Massachusetts schools were all in high school.

The Social Innovation Series event invited students in the state to share innovative ideas to change the culture of their school and make it more health-conscious.

Once Sprague and fellow Wareham Middle School students Tatiana Famania, Dylan Turner, Aidan Perez and Abby Bowman arrived, they were split into groups and told to come up with their big idea and how they would use the prize money, a $1,000 grant, to encourage wellness in their school. Then, students had to build a model of their idea using LEGOs and pitch it to judges in 60 seconds.

Sprague presented his idea alone to the judges and said it was "very nerve-wracking." His classmates chose to pitch another concept: healthy vending machines used as incentives for good behavior in class.

"They out-shined many of the high school presentations," Stahmer said. She said she was nervous at first because her students were the youngest at the competition, but that they made the school proud. All the students said they hope to return to compete again.

Sprague's idea won a $1,000 grant to implement the Retain It Zones in Wareham Middle School. This winter, he will work with teachers and administration at the school to bring the idea to life.

"It really was an eye-opening experience," Stahmer said.