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Falls pupils making strides in program that encourages activity, healthy eating

Every time someone sees 11-year-old Daniel Gazdovich, he's probably running or jogging, but not because he's in a hurry.

The sixth-grader, along with every fifth- and sixth-grader at Gilmore Elementary School, is competing for "Fitness Bucks."

The Fitness Bucks challenge encourages good health through exercise. It also encourages students to eat more fruit and vegetables, said Karen Robins, the school nurse who is coordinating the program.

The challenge started Oct. 25 and runs through Friday. For every 10 minutes of physical activity, pupils get a Fitness Buck, which they can use to bid on things like footballs, baseball bats, tennis rackets, softballs, baseball mitts and hockey sticks at a silent auction that will be held at the end of the program.

Each pupil participating in the challenge has a pedometer to measure his or her exercise level.

Daniel said he is trying to take as many steps as possible every day. His record so far: "I've done 20,000 steps in one day. That's 10 miles."

He is also eating well.

"I eat a lot of fruits and run around the block," he said. "I jog to the store and back. I try to turn everything I do into a little exercise. I play soccer, and sometimes I play tennis with my brother. It's a good program because it gets you to exercise and makes you healthy."

Robins said each pupil documents exercise levels to earn Fitness Bucks.

The challenge is part of an overall "Fit & Fun" program for pupils in all Gilmore grade levels. The program is offered through the Healthy Community Alliance, a private organization from Gowanda that promotes healthy eating and exercise.

Third- and fourth-graders are competing in the Healthy Choices Sticker Program, Robins said.

"They earn a sticker for every healthy snack they eat, either in class or at lunch," she said. "Whenever they eat things like apples, celery sticks, carrots, grapes, an orange, a banana or apple sauce -- anything like that -- instead of cookies or chips, they get a sticker. If they order a Julienne salad -- which is a whole meal -- at the cafeteria instead of the chicken nuggets and fries they used to always get, they get three stickers."

Pupils add up their stickers at the end of each week and can win prizes that include jump ropes, yo-yos and footbags, Robins said.

Those in kindergarten through second grade don't compete but are involved in several programs that teach them about the benefits of healthy eating. The Healthy Community Alliance came in Friday to run an assembly on healthy eating and do a taste-testing program with the younger children.

"They see how many children like or have eaten things like broccoli, and they have them taste it to get acquainted with it," Robins said. "The same thing is done with carrots, cucumbers, melons and other fresh foods."

She said families are contacted, as well, to see if fresh fruit and vegetables are being served at home.

The programs seem to be working, and the competition at the upper grade levels has many pupils enthused.

At lunch one day last week, about a dozen third-graders were displaying the oranges, apples, cucumbers and carrots they were having.

Meanwhile, fifth-grader Farida Mukhtasimova, 11, said, "I run and eat healthy and don't watch TV. I keep in shape by jogging every evening for a half hour to 1 1/2 hours. I play soccer and games at home, and I don't eat things like frozen pizzas from the store because they are not really healthy. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables."

Farida said her record day for steps came when she walked 18,000 steps, about nine miles.

Robins said the program's goal is for fifth- and sixth-graders to walk 10,000 steps, which is five miles a day.

Fifth-grader Ryan Gilbert, 9, said he has exercised for up to six hours a day on the weekends and hopes to win a football at the silent auction.

Joseph Wagner, 10, also in fifth grade, who actually likes to eat Brussels sprouts if they have a little salt on them, said he also has exercised up to six hours in a day and would not mind getting a hockey stick at the silent auction.

Sixth-grader Kaleigh Cavanaugh, 11, said she also would like to win a hockey stick.

"I walk around my block, ride my bike and do cheerleading for exercise," she said.


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