URBANA — In a gym transformed by huge potted plants and camouflage fabric and with music like "Eye of the Tiger" blasting, Leal elementary students became contestants in their own version of a reality show.
Organized into tribes and outfitted with camo do-rags, they competed in competitions that included a relay race that required them to move water in coconut shells and trying to spot specific items with binoculars while using written clues.
A group of students from the University of Illinois Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism put on the competition as part of a class they're taking that requires them to plan events.
The class, over the years, has put on many different events for the Urbana school district's various after-school programs and around the area, as well.
"It's all about the community," said LoriKay Paden, who teaches the class.
The UI Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism has worked with the Urbana after-school programs for more than five years, said Sandy Davin, the director of Urbana's before- and after-school child care program. She actually graduated from the program, back when it was called leisure studies.
Davin said the goal is for the UI students to wow the Urbana kids with their event.
"We want the kids to be excited about them and remember them," she said.
She said the UI students' work benefits her program with new ideas, exciting events and the chance to work with "up-and-coming leaders."
"We get the chance to have some great role models volunteer," she said, "and, for me personally, it's a way to kind of give back to the department that gave me my foundation at the UI."
It's a capstone class, so the UI students are expected to use everything they've learned in previous classes. They must do everything from gathering sponsors, suppliers and volunteers to actually putting on a successful event, planning for detailed schedules broken down into 10-minute to half-hour increments.
Students are expected to put together a written plan so detailed, it can be re-created by someone interested in hosting the event again, Paden said.
Students are expected to attend an event that's put on by another team and write a paper evaluating it, Paden said.
"That's the best way to learn, to observe," she said.
UI senior Shahan Noorahi was on the team putting together Leal's event in late November.
The team organized activities like a relay race across the school's gym in which the fifth-graders had to transport water in two coconut shells at the same time. They also made their own dirt cups, a dessert made from cookies and gummy worms, and another in which students looked through binoculars out an upstairs window, trying to find objects mentioned in clues given by organizers and volunteers.
All the activities were created with the hope that they'd be fun for students while requiring careful thinking and some physical skill, Noorahi said.
Noorahi said he learned a lot about planning and implementing an event by actually creating one for the Leal students.
"It's been more rewarding than I expected," he said.
UI junior Justin Acton and several classmates put on an event for students in the after-school program at Yankee Ridge Elementary earlier in the semester.
They called it, "A Royal Day at Ridge Castle," and it featured a station where students could learn to juggle, make crafts and a demonstration by fencers from the UI.
The organizers appreciated the elementary students' enthusiasm, Acton said.
"It was a good experience for the future, working with kids," he said.