DANVILLE – Northeast Elementary Magnet School students are getting fit this year with da help of Staley Da Bear.
On Monday, the Chicago Bears mascot brought his "First and Goal" wellness program to the school, and challenged the 276 K-5 students to take his six-week fitness challenge.
"We want to make sure you know the four downs so you can score a touchdown in the game of life," said Lyndsay Hailey, Staley's assistant who emceed the hourlong program in the gymnasium.
Modeled after the president's fitness challenge, Staley's program aims to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. This school year, it will be taken to about 90 schools, Hailey said.
"We're a health and wellness school, and we're always looking for opportunities to present information to students in a fun and interesting way," Principal Cheryl McIntire said. "This piggybacks perfectly with what we're doing – teaching them to eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest and to do things in moderation."
The program's four critical steps to healthy living are: Eat healthy, drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest and stay physically active.
When Hailey asked for examples of healthy foods, students said granola bars, salad, chicken and whole wheat peanut butter-jelly sandwiches.
"What about doughnuts?" Hailey asked.
"No!" shouted students, some of whom were decked out in Bears jerseys and sweatshirts.
Hailey nodded. "I'm not going to tell you to never eat doughnuts and ice cream," she said. "But if you're going to eat foods like that, you should eat them in moderation."
Students should drink a glass a day for every 25 pounds they weigh to help digest food and stay hydrated. At their age, they should get at least 10 hours of sleep. They also should be active, and they don't have to play organized sports to do that.
"You can walk to school, you can ride your bike, rollerskate," Hailey said.
When Staley emerged, it wasn't long before students busted him for trying to break his own rules. For example, as Hailey talked about how much Staley liked eating red apples, he started to open a bag of chips out of her view. And as she talked about Staley's daily water intake, the bear produced a 2-liter bottle of orange soda pop. When Hailey noticed it, Staley tried to pass it off as teacher Wilbur Bolton's.
Despite the bear's attempt to convince the group the snacks were OK because the packaging showed pictures of potatoes and oranges, students knew better.
"Just because it tastes good, does that mean you should eat it?" Hailey asked, prompting the students to yell, "No!"
Then she pointed out that chips have lots of salt and fat, and soda has lots of sugar.
Now students will chart how well they follow the four steps. After six weeks, they'll write a 250-word essay about something they learned about healthy living during that period.
Students who successfully complete the challenge will get a certificate and be entered in a drawing for a chance to win two tickets to a Bears home game, watch players warm up on the field and take home a stuffed Staley doll and a $100 bill.
The school with the highest percentage of students who complete the challenge will win a second assembly, at which Staley and a Bears football player will present students with a trophy.
Physical education teacher Beckey Burgoyne applauded the program, and said it's starting at just the right time.
"Everybody has the winter doldrums, and they need something fun to perk them up," she said.
She added the staff is starting its own program called "Fine in '09."
"If we're asking the children to be fit, we need to set a good example ourselves."