Fifth-grade student wins $1,000 grant for school’s P.E. department

STALLINGS – The physical education program at Stallings Elementary School is getting a “fresh start” to implement something new, thanks to fifth-grader Mason Harris and the Subway Restaurant Fresh Start Challenge.
Mason was one of only 15 students in North Carolina chosen as a winner of Subway’s Fresh Start Challenge – and the only winner from Union County. The bounty includes a “Subway Party” – Subway will cater a party for Mason and his classmates – and a $1,000 Catch Fitness grant for the Stallings Elementary physical education department.

Stallings’ P.E. teacher, Bo Mielczak, found out about the Fresh Start Challenge and encouraged students at the school to get involved. During the month of September, a handful of students throughout the school committed to taking the challenge, which included logging the number of fruits and vegetables consumed each day, charting daily exercise routines, outdoor play with both family and friends and time spent watching television. At the end of each week, the students tallied the numbers in each category and used them to determine the healthiness of their lifestyles.

“This is a good thing, not only for health, but also to learn good habits (through) reflecting, recording what they are doing,” Mielczak said.

When fifth-grade teacher Harvey Bagshaw heard about the challenge, he knew it was something he wanted his entire class to experience. Health is an important part of fifth-grade curriculum, Bagshaw said, but teachers often have a hard time teaching it because so much of their lesson time is devoted to subjects that have state-mandated tests at the end of the year.

By requiring his students to take the challenge, Bagshaw incorporated health education into his curriculum in a way kids could experience firsthand. He opted to have his students log their progress for the entire four weeks instead of just the required minimum of three.

“Some of them were like, ‘We really have to do four weeks?’ I got a couple of those questions,” Bagshaw said.

But he kept encouraging his students to persevere through the challenge and pretty soon, the entire class was on board.

“Even the few that grumbled for that first day, they jumped right in and did it,” Bagshaw said. “My kids were excited to do it, and I think that’s because of the classroom community that we have. Nobody really questioned doing four weeks. I just said, ‘Let’s do all four,’ and we did.”

The challenge wrapped up the first week of October and the students submitted their forms to Subway for the drawing.  The winners were picked randomly through a lottery system, and Subway contacted the school and Mason’s parents during the last week of October to let them know his name had been chosen. Two days later, on Oct. 30, Wendell Rowell, manager of the Subway shop in Stallings, showed up at the school to surprise Mason and the rest of his classmates with a cardboard check for $1,000.

Although he technically won by mere chance, Bagshaw and Mielczak both said Mason was the ideal student to have his name drawn. Instead of just charting his numbers for the minimum two to three days per week for four weeks, Mason went above and beyond and charted his progress daily over the course of two months. Plus, he’s a new student at Stallings Elementary, and Bagshaw said winning the contest gave Mason a chance to represent the school well.

“That was a good boost, with him being new to our school, because the other kids can look at him and go, ‘That’s the new kid that won it all,’” he said.

Mielczak, Bagshaw and the rest of faculty at Stallings Elementary are looking forward to using the $1,000 to improve the school’s physical education program. But instead of putting the funds toward a one-time special event or program, Mielczak and Bagshaw said they both would like to see the money pay for something like playground or recess equipment, gym equipment and other things current and future students can continue to use throughout their time at Stallings Elementary.

“I don’t want to put it into a program where that’s going to be a one-time deal,” Bagshaw said. “I want it to be something that stays, that lasts.”

Bagshaw believes having special learning experiences, like the Fresh Start Challenge, benefits students in all areas of their performance.

“I’m just grateful to Subway, and to Bo (Mielczak) for finding the challenge, because … when kids are active, eating right, drinking water, sleeping well, all of that impacts their academics,” he said. “It really impacts their learning because they’re getting enough oxygen to their brains, they’re feeling good about themselves … it impacts education, and that’s why I felt it was important to take this opportunity.”

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