ALAMOSA – On a warm autumn afternoon, middle and high school students joined Adams State University students in Cole Park. They crossed a small expanse of grass, raising knees to chest, lunging forward in stretching exercises before dividing into teams for a friendly game of soccer.
It was no accidental pick-up game. The two groups came together through “Movement for the Mind,” a new initiative made possible from a recent $100,000 El Pomar Foundation grant awarded to Adams State. A multi-departmental project, the goal of the program is to foster healthy mental health in children and adolescents through physical activity and togetherness, especially during the pandemic when mental health issues have been on the rise for all ages.
The free sessions began on Oct. 9 and continued every Friday through Oct. 30.
Adams State President Cheryl D. Lovell approached the El Pomar Foundation with the idea for the Movement for the Mind project. She compiled a multidisciplinary team from departments across campus including kinesiology, counselor education, sociology, psychology, business and outdoor education and stewardship. Each department drew on their own strengths to contribute to the overall success of the project through research, marketing, social media, physical activities and hosting a COVID-19 Summit for San Luis Valley educators.
Sara Erdner, Ph.D., CMPC, assistant professor of kinesiology and Movement for the Mind principal investigator, says the future impacts of the program are bright and hopeful. “We hope that (by) implementing this type of project, we will help the San Luis Valley youth feel the positive effects of physical activity.”
According to Rena Kirkland, Ph.D., professor of psychology and co-principal investigator, research shows physical activity and spending time in nature are associated with positive mental health. In addition, evidence shows that children and adolescents are more resilient when they feel connected to their community. “We are excited to provide free outdoor movement activities for youth in the San Luis Valley.”
Although the fall events have ended, the Adams State team of students and faculty encouraged the younger group to continue physical activity in their daily lives, including family walks, hiking trails and visiting local, state or national parks. They provided the participants with links and apps that could help them in this process.
Erdner said the program can help with the stigma surrounding mental health in the valley. “In this way, we hope the community begins to understand they can actively advocate for their own mental health by simply getting out of their respective homes.” That itself will help to foster a mentally stronger and healthier community, she says.
In October, Movement for the Mind activities included soccer, ultimate frisbee, spike ball or a walk around the park in Alamosa’s Cole Park. Each session consisted of new activities and concepts to learn. All events followed proper social distance protocols and required face masks. Participants registered before the event in order to ensure the correct ratio of mentors to participants and for additional safety reasons.
The Movement for the Mind initiative will be back in the spring, starting March 12, 2021. The spring sessions will happen once a week for six weeks. Contact Erdner at [email protected] for more information.