Harrison Elementary School third-graders Alyssa Stande and Olivia Berry demonstrate tandem splits, a move they learned in tumbling classes. “I just kept practicing them,” said Berry about her skill. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

REGION — Maine’s annual WinterKids program began Monday and in Oxford Hills, students at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and Harrison Elementary School are ready to take on the four-week challenge of getting outdoors every day. First time participant Agnes Gray held its opening ceremony on Monday with an outdoor rally that included a parade around the ballfield, dancing and displays of school pride. Harrison, which been part the activities program for the last five years, followed suit on Wednesday, with its Abominable/Yeti  WinterKids mascot leading students around the school grounds.

Although the goal is to have fun and be active outside, the stakes for schools taking part in WinterKids are high – 16 schools in Maine are competing for $30,000 worth of cash and prizes.

Harrison Elementary School fourth-grader Lylah Stanton explains how students use colored water to spray artwork on the snow. “We take the water bottles with different food dyes. And we go in the snow and we do art, whatever we want. You can make a heart, a butterfly,” she said. “Just mix the colors and do whatever you want.” Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“We’re in it to come together for the camaraderie and to have fun,” said Bailey Graffam, instructional coach at HES, who coordinates the school’s activities along with sixth-grade teacher Rob Ripley. “We do get some money for WinterKids but we generally spend it on sledding activities, on snowshoes, gloves and hats. It all goes back into our outdoor activities.

“They give us challenges each week. This week we’re making a video. Next week we’ll do meme. We can design different TikToks or Boomerang videos. We have outside activities every day. We get a guide book to tell us what to do. We can do the science of skating. We can snowshoe, sledding, relay races, public service announcements. We pick out what we want to do.”

Ezra Thompson, a sixth-grader at Agnes Elementary School in West Paris, led a stream of students during WinterKids’ opening ceremony last Monday, appropriate attired in his Vikings gear and waving a Vikings-green banner. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“Last year we did the winter Olympics here, and watched WinterKids (in Harrison) from afar,” said Agnes Gray Principal Cathy Bickford during her school’s opening ceremony. We thought, we’re outside all the time, we might as well make it count and get in on the competition.

“Our Outdoor  Learning Coordinator Sarah Timm signed us up and we did all the planning as a team. We have our opening ceremony today, and every day we will do a different challenge over the four weeks. We get points for every kid who participates. Tomorrow we’ll do snowball throwing, we have the target made. If it’s to cold to make snowballs we have fake ones.”


In Harrison WinterKids has become a tradition that has expanded beyond school and includes a family sledding night and winter carnival.

“Every year since we started (WinterKids) we do a community sledding night, said Graffam. “The first year we did it here at the school. Last year we did it at RADR Sports Complex for the first time. It was a blast. All the families came out, it was in the evening. We served everyone hot cocoa. There is so much more space there and it’s become a real community event. It brings our families closer together.

At Harrison Elementary School, fourth-grader Connor Pratt (left) and fifth-grader Nicole Nason were in charge of preparing bottles of colored water for snow painting during WinterKids opening ceremony. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“During the fourth week we hold a winter carnival. In the first year we had parent volunteers show up and we had snowmobiles, sleds and snowshoe races.”

Agnes Gray fifth graders Krystin Dubois and Khloe Yates are looking forward to working together during the next four weeks.

“I feel like it brings a lot of kids together,” Dubois. We come out here to have fun and build up friendships and meet new kids.”

“You can do different activities, dance with the other kids like we’re doing now,” said Yates, adding that at the beginning of the school year the two did not like each other. “And now, we actually get along. We’re making more friends.”

Agnes Gray fifth grade students Krystin Dubois (right) and Khloe Yates danced and hula-hooped together during WinterKids opening ceremonies in West Paris. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat




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