The excited shouts and laughter of third graders filled the halls of Charter Oak Church as students from four area school districts gathered Wednesday to learn from local health care professionals and community members at the annual Latrobe Area Hospital Aid Society Children’s Health Fair.

The event, which began in 1984, was halted during the first two years of the pandemic but returned last year. Some of the sessions are new or reimagined versions of older sessions. There’s been an added focus on mental health and stress management since the advent of covid, said Jan Mills, event co-chair.

Groups of students from the Greater Latrobe, Derry Area and Ligonier Valley districts and the Valley School of Ligonier are guided through 12 eight-minute activity stations that promote learning on health, safety and wellness topics.

The event is intended to “give kids an insight into healthy living,” said Lorraine Burd of the Latrobe Area Hospital Aid Society.

The group volunteers at and raises funds to support Excela Health Latrobe Hospital.

Students received a goodie bag of items related to the educational stations at the end of the day. The hands-on learning style of the sessions helps engage kids with health topics they might not learn about in class, Burd said.

“It may get touched on in school, but this may be just a different atmosphere, that they see it in a different manner,” Burd said.

“We rebooted and created new stations, and it’s wonderful,” she said. “The whole theme is ‘Healthy is Happy,’ trying to promote health and well-being, safety and preventative health.”

As an event, the fair also serves as outreach to make students aware of community resources.

“It’s very active. There’s a balance of presentations, but also hands-on learning and activity,” Mills said. “There’s a sense of community, to know that there’s lots of people out in the community that care about them, that are cheering for them and that are in their balcony supporting them that they have yet to meet.”

Stations of learning

In one room, students learned yoga poses and strung the exercises together to make a story. In another, they practiced proper hand signals to tell drivers and pedestrians when they are turning or stopping on their bicycle. First responders gave students a tour of an ambulance and gave advice about how to call 911 in an emergency.

In an outdoor session, LAHAS volunteer Laura Rhodes taught kids about “summer safety,” giving tips on how to avoid ticks and demonstrating proper use of flotation devices if they see someone struggling to swim.

“We want to teach them to wear their personal flotation devices, or life jackets, and also, that they need to get help, swim with a lifeguard and swim with other people, and never jump in to save somebody,” Rhodes said, saying drowning is a common cause of death for kids. “They need to throw something to them, so we have a ring toss out there with the ring buoy.”

Orthodontist Dr. Bruce Matthews and staff members from his office taught kids facts about dental hygiene and invited them to complete a crossword puzzle of tooth-related vocabulary. His station has been part of the fair for the past 32 years.

“I enjoy it. I enjoy talking with them and explaining to them about dental health and how it’s important to brush your teeth,” he said. “You can see they’re really smart. They pretty much know all the answers, so somebody’s doing a good job out there.”

Chad Krehlik, principal of Mountain View Elementary in Greater Latrobe, said last year’s version of the event was his first time attending. It left a big impression, he said.

“I thought it was an outstanding event,” he said. “I think, for the students, exposing them to the various careers that are available in the health field, it’s a wonderful community connection. Anytime we’re talking community and bringing people together and what’s available here in our students’ backyards and in their homes, it’s just a tremendous opportunity for them to be able to connect with the adults that are here to help serve our students.”

Shawna Kantz, a teacher in Derry Area School District, watched as students learned about accessibility aids such as Braile and mobility aids such as wheelchairs at a ‘Respecting Others’ station. She said her class is a big fan of the event.

“The students love this field trip. We’ve been coming for years,” she said. “They get lessons on how to be healthy, how to be safe, what to do in an emergency. They’ll go back, and they’ll talk all about it.”

Julia Maruca is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at jmaruca@triblive.com.

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