PHOENIX -- Five Arizona teachers and their schools were each awarded a $5,000 grant to fund school programs that fight childhood obesity. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) awarded the grants based on the winners' exceptional execution of the 2015 Walk On! Challenge and plans to continue teaching their students the importance of healthy eating and exercise habits.
The Walk On! Challenge is a free month-long health and fitness challenge held each year in February. For nine years it was available to only fifth-graders across the state, but to commemorate the 10th anniversary the program expanded to include fourth-graders. The program has reached more than 285,000 elementary-aged children since it began and aims to motivate them to incorporate healthy habits into their daily routines for a healthier lifestyle now and in the future.
The grant application asked teachers to specify what the grant money would be used for if they won it for their school. Teachers reported plans to add fitness stations around the school, new pedometers and heart-rate monitors, school education programs, field trips, sports equipment for the playground and activities that encourage family participation.
"I was thrilled that for the first year our fourth-graders were able to participate in this tremendous opportunity. Our fourth-grade contingency outperformed our fifth-graders and it gives us more time to educate our youngsters on the importance of exercise and diet as part of a total wellness program for the body," Gregg Veitel, physical education teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Mesa, said. "I would like to praise the Walk On! program for the organization that goes into it and the motivation and encouragement by way of journal keeping with the calendars and handing out backpacks to all participants. We are a Title 1 school at Whittier and a lot of our kids come from low socioeconomic living conditions. Something as simple as a backpack and a calendar go a long way in sparking the interest of our students."
This year's $5,000 grant recipients were:
- Marami Abbadessa at Saddleback Elementary School in Maricopa
- Colleen Aver at Jefferson Elementary School in Mesa
- Bonnie Eaves and Elizabeth Espy at Grace Fellowship Academy in Buckeye
- Greg Veitel at Whittier Elementary School in Mesa
- Duane Yazzie at Tsehootsooi Intermediate Learning Center in Fort Defiance
Teachers from 198 schools all around the state participated in the Challenge reaching 24,000 fourth- and fifth-graders this year. In a student survey done before and after the program, teachers reported a 44 percent increase in their students' knowledge of the healthy choices they should be making every day.
"The Walk On! Challenge goals are simple, yet effective, healthy choices," noted Dr. Vishu Jhaveri, chief medical officer BCBSAZ. "The teachers and the students respond really well to this program and its goals, and we see great results every year that tell us this program is making a difference in the lives of Arizonans."
For more information about Walk On!, grant criteria or the 5-2-1-0 daily goal, visit www.walkonaz.com.