LANSING | Fitness is in serious focus for fifth-graders at Coolidge Elementary School.
The concentration on living healthy lifestyles began last school year when fifth-grade teacher Candace Smith, with the help of fellow fifth-grade teachers Melissa Adamow and Shea Moroni, implemented a Fuel Up to Play 60 program at their school.
The program is a partnership between the National Dairy Council and the National Football League. Students can win prizes by selecting healthy foods and being active at least 60 minutes daily.
"I believe that nutrition and physical activity play a big part in students' focus, attention and helps with behavior issues," Smith said.
Fifth-graders at Coolidge are the leaders of the program, with 37 of them playing the role of "ambassadors."
The ambassadors come to school early one day a week to prepare mini-lessons on exercise and healthy eating they present to the younger classes at the school.
"The fifth-graders are the ambassadors, but we encourage all of the students to do the 60 minutes of activity every day," Coolidge Principal Linda Blomquist said.
Smith said the hope is that the program expands beyond the walls of the school to combat the problem of childhood obesity.
"The truth of the matter is, it tends to be a lack of knowledge, busy schedules, processed and fast foods, they all lend themselves to this," Smith said. "So the more that the students can learn, the more it transfers to home and they teach other students, as well."
Smith said at snack time students have been noticed pointing out unhealthy choices.
As a result of the school's efforts, one of the prizes won so far was a trip to Soldier Field with eight students.
"It was such a cool experience," Smith said. "They played on the field. They learned about healthy meals."
She said they also got to meet current Chicago Bear Craig Steltz and former Bear Anthony Morgan.
Smith said the biggest benefit she's seen so far that's come from the program is increased self-esteem in students.
"I have one student who couldn't do a push-up in the beginning of the year," she said. "As the school year went on, he is now up to 20 push-ups."
Another project that involves all fifth-grade classes throughout the village is the Lansing Roundball Community Basketball Tournament.
Now in its fifth year, the tournament was started by Sally Reynolds, a Lansing District 158 physical education teacher, and Rick Seymour, a longtime Lansing resident.
The annual event held at Memorial Junior High School invites the fifth-grade boys basketball teams from all public and private schools in the village.
Fifth-grade girls participate in a hot shot contest during halftime of the games.
Seymour said the main purpose of the tournament is to bring the whole community together.
The tournament is about much more than just basketball, as roughly $10,000 raised through admissions over the past four years has gone to Lansing organizations or charities.
A food drive in conjunction with the tournament has Lansing schools competing to see which one can gather the most food and thus gain possession of a traveling plaque.
Oak Glen Elementary School won that honor last year.
The tournament this year will take place Feb. 13-15, with the championship game to take place Feb. 20.
"The championship night, we don't charge admission, we just kind of suggest that anybody coming to watch the game bring some food," Seymour said.
The food collected will go to the Lansing Food Pantry.
The normal admission cost is $1 for children and $2 for adults.
Lansing Christian School is the reigning champion of the Roundball Tournament and possessor of the traveling trophy.