More than 27,000 fifth-graders in school districts across Arizona participated in a health-based challenge that also provided three Mesa schools $5,000 grants.

Students from 212 schools across the state were involved in 2014’s Walk On! Challenge organized by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. The challenge encourages children to adopt a healthy lifestyle through physical exercise and proper nutrition.

Participating fifth-graders must log the number of vegetable and fruit servings they consume and their levels of physical activity on a daily calendar. The goal is for students to eat five fruits and veggies, to spend less than two hours on the computer or watching TV, to engage in one hour of active play and to avoid sugary drinks each day.

This year’s challenge saw students consume more than 475,000 servings of fruit and vegetables, and they logged more than 121,000 hours of exercise.

The students must then submit the calendars to their teachers at the end of the challenge in order to be eligible for the grants, and prizes for individual students, such as an iPod or drawstring backpack.

The free program took place in February and has helped more than 261,000 fifth-graders improve their fitness level since its creation.

To be eligible for the grant, teachers must describe how the grant will benefit their respective schools and students.

“I decided to try to write the grant because I really wanted the school to have a rock climbing wall. I really thought that was something the kids would enjoy,” said Kerr Elementary School Physical Education Teacher and 2014 grant recipient Ryan Eide.

This was his eighth year participating in the challenge, but his first time entering for a grant.

Eide said in previous years approximately 30 percent of students turn in their calendars, but this year approximately 89 percent of his fifth-graders actively participated in the Walk On! Challenge.

“This year I was like, ‘You know what guys, if you really want this wall, you’ve really got to work hard,’” he said. “I’m really proud of the kids, they worked hard to do the program and turn their calendars in.”

Tim Bergen, a physical education teacher at Lowell Elementary School, was also a recipient of the $5,000 grant. Like Eide, it was Bergen’s eighth time participating in the challenge and his first year writing for the grant.

“We had an assembly at school and it was announced we had won the grant,” he said, “the fifth-graders that participated were very excited.”

Bergen said the grant money will purchase recess equipment, soccer goalposts and a Wii Fit cart teachers can check out for classroom use. The grant will also fund special events to raise awareness for diabetes, such as roller skating, ice skating and Brunswick bowling. The remainder of it will be put towards scholarships designed to enable students to attend the events.

Students now approach Bergen in the halls to express their gratitude and he said that is extremely rewarding.

The other three grant recipients are Ryan Buxton from Porter Elementary in Mesa, Cathy Missler from Coyote Trail Elementary in Marana and Lisa Rickel from Thornydal Elementary in Marana.

• Sam Gauvain is a junior at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at

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