They are 300 students on a mission.
Get fit, teach others about eating smart – and win the rematch of the Operation Tone Up contest against a Phoenix school they beat last year.
All the students in the third, fourth and fifth grades at Mission Manor Elementary School spend 20 to 30 minutes a day, four days a week, exercising.
They also have fitness lessons integrated into their reading, writing and mathematics classes.
“The goal is to fight childhood obesity and give students the information they need to make good choices,” fourth-grade teacher Kristi Hamblen said.
Students report going home and having siblings do push-ups and squats with them.
Others yell at older brothers and sisters for eating junk food.
“I had a parent come in and tell me the son said they shouldn’t buy hot Cheetos anymore because they were empty calories and had no nutritional value,” Hamblen said.
“Children this age don’t always have the opportunity to choose the foods they eat,” the teacher said, “but this way they are getting to know what their bodies need for the different things they do all day. They learn they need carbohydrates to give them energy and protein to rebuild their muscles. They know why they need six to eight glasses of water a day. They learn how their metabolism works.”
The program runs from Sept. 27 to Dec. 4 and culminates in a final showdown Dec. 12. This year it will be at Castles N’ Coasters in Phoenix.
It will pit Mission Manor, 600 W. Santa Rosa St., versus R.E. Miller Elementary from Phoenix. Last year, the school in Tucson’s Sunnyside Unified School District, won, 15-14. The scores are based on exercises and academic information on fitness, done in a Family Feud game show-type setup.
This year, Hamblen said, they are working out even more and studying even harder so they won’t have such a nail-biter of a finish.
Meanwhile, there are other benefits beyond the obvious weight loss and muscle toning the students – and the teachers – see from the jumping jacks, squats, jogging in place, sit-ups and push-ups – “and not the girl push-ups, either – even for the girls,” the teacher said.
Hamblen said she has data to support that students are doing better in school since they have been in the fitness program. “I can’t say absolutely that it’s because of the program, but the fourth-grade AIMS scores last year were higher and it was the only grade to make so much of a gain.”
Plus, “their confidence level increased,” Hamblen said. “A middle school asked them to come and they weren’t afraid to go and show those kids how to work out.
“It also has given them opportunities for public speaking, and they have written commercials in class. They’ve learned to read nutritional labels.”
Only 15 to 20 students will participate in the final showdown, but everyone has to do his or her best, because the 15 or 20 will not be chosen until the last week – and they’re chosen at random, she said.
After the contest in Phoenix, the program ends. It’s only one semester long. But it doesn’t end at Mission Manor, Hamblen said. “We continue it because we can’t imagine just letting that go. The kids that need to lose weight are losing weight. The exercise is helping all of them focus on school and do better on their test. We keep it up.”