CENTERVILLE — Childhood obesity is a big problem. One in every four Utah students in grades K-8 either is overweight or at-risk of becoming so, according to the Utah Department of Health.
At Taylor Elementary School in Centerville, they're battling the problem. Every day, students, teachers and even the principal go out and walk, run, jump rope and otherwise just move. Their goal: to walk around the world, sort of.
The school is one of about 277 Utah schools participating in the Gold Medal Schools Program, which was developed by the Utah Department of Health in 2001, encourages students to be active and eat healthy.
Each school in the program develops its own wellness program, and healthy eating is encouraged. At Taylor, the kids are logging their mileage each day on punch cards.
Thursday, second-grade teacher Michelle Giddy was out walking with her class.
“I think it’s great because it gets the kids excited about exercise, and they have fun,” she said. “They get to make goals and reach the goals, and they get excited about it.”
“There are 25 punches on a card, that’s five miles,” explained Gold Medal School coordinator Nancy Robinson. “So when they finish a card, they get a little prize. We have a little chain with little tokens on them.”
In the hallways, there are photos of the kids who have reached certain goals of 25 or 50 miles. Two students have already hit the 125-mile mark.
The students also have another big goal with all this. Each class is charting its combined miles on a big world map and checking off segments as it "virtually" walks around the planet.
All this walking and running and keeping track of mileage also has blended into a geography lesson, Robinson said.
“It’s also in conjunction with our theme, We are the World, and every month we take a different continent and the kids are learning about these continents,” she said.
It's a win-win for students and the school. Everyone gets daily exercise, the students are learning more about the world they live in, and they are rewarded in the process.
“They get a free recess,” Robinson said. “If their class reaches a certain destination, they get an extra recess. That’s a big motivator for those kids.”
The schools are rewarded with cash prizes for reaching certain student participation. That can be as much as $1,500, which the schools use to support the program. Since it was developed in 2001, the program has reached more than 202,841 students in 373 elementary schools.
“They want kids to move and want kids to eat well,” Robinson said. "It’s all part of the same thing. At our school, we rarely have kids who don’t want to go out and move and do something. Even older kids who are getting sick of recess, they will walk around.”