Students at Mount Airy Elementary School danced their way to a fitter lifestyle last week.
The roughly 525 students who are enrolled in the school participated in a 20-minute dance session on Oct. 12 — which included such songs as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” — as part of the Carroll County Public School system’s annual Project Active Children Excel in School program.
The program, which began in 1996, encourages students to be physically active through individual, school and family activities and challenges them to participate in an activity for at least an hour each day for two weeks.
This year, the project ran from Oct.1 to 14.
Approximately 11,228 students and 1,533 staff members in 26 schools participated in the initiative, which has formed a partnership with the Baltimore Ravens Play 60 Challenge, a similar four-week program that encourages students to be active for an hour a day.
The school program, which this year was funded by the Ravens, cost about $7,000, said Linda Kephart, the school system’s supervisor of health and physical education.
The program aims to improve health by increasing school performance through physical activity, said Janet Wolfing, a physical education teacher at the school and the leader of the dance sessions.
“The idea is that children who are active and moving excel in school,” Wolfing said.
Officials hope to get students and adults into the habit of exercising, Kephart said.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade — and participating teachers — tracked their activities through a daily log sheet.
The activities could include such things as helping with yard work or housework or bicycling with family members. Participants were allowed to include school recess time in their logs.
The participants who logged the highest number of hours at the end of the two-week period win prizes, which in the past have included footballs and exercise equipment, Wolfing said.
Each school will draw one fifth-grade boy and one fifth-grade girl who will be entered in a system-wide raffle. Three students from the county will receive tickets to a Ravens game, while five will have the opportunity to attend a Ravens luncheon this spring, Kephart said.
The winning students will be presented with their prizes next month.
The participating schools are split into two divisions based on student population; the top schools in each division, measured by participation, can win up to $500.
Last week’s dance session was the final opportunity for the students to log activity time at Mount Airy Elementary School.
Calissa Elam, 10, a fifth grader, said that her favorite part of the session was dancing to a popular 2007 song.
“I liked the ‘Cupid Shuffle,’” she said. “I feel fit.”
Throughout the challenge, students participated in other physical fitness activities, including exercises during warm ups each day.
“[The challenge] makes me feel like my body is getting stronger,” said Mary Hobbs, 11, a fifth grader at Mount Airy. “Not only does exercise help your muscles, it helps you learn.”
Mount Airy Elementary School has been participating in the program for about 10 years.
Last year, the school received a gold award for its participation in the program, meaning more than 80 percent of the school participated.
Wolfing said the school hopes to continue that tradition, with the goal this year of 85 percent participation, or about 450 students. School officials still are tabulating the participation rate.
“The kids get really excited about it,” Wolfing said.
Kephart said each school that receives a gold award also receives $200.