SYCAMORE — Mohawk Elementary students are being taught the importance of healthy eating and exercise with the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. The school received a $4,000 grant for the program and it is offered to students free of charge.
“In the fall, I had received a grant from Fuel Up to Play 60 and the American Dairy Association to get our students more active and make healthier eating choices,” said Mohawk teacher Nelle Nutter, coordinator of the school’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program. “We have offered a free after school fitness time for the students, which includes a healthy snack, stretching and running and playing fitness games on the Wii.”
The students exercise two days a week after school in the elementary cafeteria. Each hour-long session begins with a healthy snack consisting of fruit and cereal bars and milk.
“It costs them $1,” Nutter said. “The only cost to them is the snack.”
After their snack, the students take off to run laps around the school. This time, they are encouraged to run in the hallways.
“They do five laps and that’s about 1 mile,” said kindergarten teacher Tony Patrizi, who helps with the program. “We started at about two laps and the kids were sucking wind and complaining about side cramps. Now we’ve got kids that complained in the beginning and they are complaining still, but they are complaining and doing five laps as opposed to two.
“Our hope is that it will carry over into a healthy lifestyle, where the kids will want to do this” Patrizi added. “Rather than sit down and play a video game, they can have fun with a video game.”
Last week, the students used the Nintendo Wii, sweating and having fun while playing Just Dance 3.
“Learning the Moves activity was implemented on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Nutter said. “… Students come once a week and earn prizes from the Fuel Up store with every five times they attend.”
“I’m sweating right now, as is Mrs. Nutter,” said Patrizi, in between dances. “That’s the fun part. Kids get to see adults working out and being good role models.”
The program started in January and more than 140 kids have taken part.
“It’s been a really neat experience for the kids,” Patrizi said. “We’ve been doing this for almost 20 weeks and the kids are still excited about it. That just shows what kind of program it is.”
“Some of the kids go to basketball camp,” Nutter added. “They can just come and sign in and as long as they are being active, it counts.”
Teachers Heidi Fortney, Andrea Hoerig, Erin Patrizi and Gina Wyman also help with the program, volunteering each week to work out along with the students.
“A lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to be active, whether it’s being involved in ball practice or things like that,” Patrizi said. “Some parents don’t have the ability to do that because they have several kids. With this, we give parents the opportunity for their kids to come out and it’s pretty much free.”
The students say they have enjoyed the experience.
“During the beginning of the school year, I found out they had this program and I found out a lot of my friends were coming so I decided I’d come so I can hang out with my friends,” sixth-grader Jared Vargo, 12, said. “I just think it’s fun hanging out and doing exercises with my friends.”
“I come because I lived in Wharton and I didn’t get up and exercise so much, so when I moved here (to the Mohawk community), I figured I had to do more exercise programs and baseball,” said 12-year-old Josiah Johnson, a sixth grader. “This helps me with my legs because I have problems. It’s helped stretch them out and it will help me in baseball.”
The younger participants also are having fun and getting healthy.
“I like coming her to dance, run and exercise,” said 7-year-old Jazmyn Morris, a second grader. “It helps me to run faster.”
“I like to dance and my friends are here,” 9-year-old Robert Price, a third grader, added. “I like the program because it’s fun.”
Nutter also used the grant to encourage a healthier lifestyle for students who did not attend the workouts and the Mohawk Community at-large.
“This grant was used in support of the Healthier U.S. School Challenge Grant the district had received,” Nutter said. “The focus of this grant was to educate the students, staff and community about creating and promoting lifelong healthy eating habits and also the importance and benefits of physical activity. As we looked to take the district to a healthier level, we encouraged students to bring in healthy snacks and treats, made our classroom parties healthier and started offering low-fat milk at concession stands.”
The money also was used to purchase Ninja Blenders which have been used to make fruit smoothies on Tuesday mornings for breakfast.
“Studies show that students who start the day with a good breakfast have improved memory, problem-solving skills, verbal fluency and creative abilities,” Nutter said. “Studies also show that students who are physically active during the day are less likely to be distracted or become a behavior problem in class and have increased academic achievement.”
According to Nutter, the smoothies have become a popular breakfast treat.
“We have seen as many as 209 smoothies sold in one morning,” she said.
The team purchased physical fitness equipment to be used in an activity room on rainy days and physical activity breaks. Teachers can take their students to the room and use jump ropes, cones, hop-a-long balls, stability balls, bosu balls and agility ladders. On rainy days, students can play one of the many Wii dance games on the console that was also purchased.
The final school activity of the year was Tuesday, when the students made frozen yogurt smoothies. Today, they are visiting The Ohio State University for a tour of the football, wrestling and gymnastics facilities. They also will be on the football field for photos.
This was the first year for the program and the staff feels it has been a success.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me and I hope it can continue,” Patrizi said.
By CHANDA NEELY