EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (AP) — Students at Ravenwood Elementary are fighting America's obesity epidemic one activity at a time.
The Eagle River elementary school was recently honored by the State of Alaska for winning the 2012 Healthy Futures Challenge, a state-sponsored program designed to get kids moving.
"It's super important to be active, and we know that at Ravenwood," said school principal Audrey Chapman during a Feb. 4 assembly in the school's gym.
The entire student body turned out for the high-energy assembly, which included a visit from Alaska Pacific University Nordic skiers, a student-led demonstration on how to do various aerobic exercises and even a short dance routine by the school's kindergartners.
Healthy Futures program director Cindy Norquest also presented the school with a check for $750 for winning last year's challenge. Norquist said nearly 90 percent of the school's children filled out activity logs for at least one month.
"That's awesome," she told the students. "Give yourself a pat on the back."
The students obliged Norquist by reaching back and doing just that.
Gym teacher Caela Nielsen then led a group of students through Ravenwood's own version of some familiar activities — including "flying squirrels," ''grasshoppers," ''froggers" and "caterpillars." To those unfamiliar with Ravenwood-speak, those are jumping jacks, push-ups, burpees and sit-ups, respectively.
Following the presentation, Ravenwood 5th grader Chloe White explained why the Healthy Futures program caught on so quickly at her school.
"We have kids that like to push themselves and they want to be in shape," she said.
White said she and her fellow students learned that being active is crucial because it has a lasting impact on someone's long-term health.
"It's really important to be healthy," she said.
According to the Department of Health and Social Services, roughly 30 percent of Alaska schoolchildren are overweight or obese. Norquest said that's the reason the state began the Healthy Futures Challenge, a program the has grown to include more than 140 schools across Alaska.
"We have grown from hundreds of kids participating to thousands of kids participating," she said.
APU skiers Greta Anderson, Kate Fitzgerald and Lars Flora dropped by the program to encourage the kids to keep up the good work. Fitzgerald said the skiers believe it's important to encourage healthy living at a young age.
"It's huge," she said. "When you're fit as a little kid, it only helps you gain momentum into adulthood."
Flora — a two-time Olympian — said APU has been involved with Healthy Futures for a couple years, and he's been thrilled at how quickly the program has caught on with kids.
"It's pretty amazing to watch it grow," he said.
White said the program has inspired she and her classmates to get out and play every single day — something that's not only healthy, but a lot of fun, too.
"It's really cool," she said.