By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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Barbie Monty’s fifth-grade class holds up a banner supplied by the United States Department of Agriculture. Pictured front row, left to right: Charlie Woeste, Madison Bouie, Sonia Gohil, Aayush Patel, Logan Watson, Max Rabenstein, Ranai Gosine, Vasili Sotiropoulos. Back Row, left to right: Hilani Blume, Bhuvi Raxwal, Payton Nipps, Bailey Scott, Ryan Hakam, Demir Dikmen, Ayedean Sharabyani.

TAMPA, Florida – Barbie Monty’s fifth-grade class at Carrollwood Day School is organizing a half-hour health walk on Friday, but the steps are intended to last a lifetime.

“We’re going to encourage kids to try to stay healthy,” said Demir Dikmen, one of the students. “We think everyone deserves to live a healthy lifestyle and have a healthy body and be happier.”

His classmate, Aayush Patel, added, “It doesn’t matter what age you are, you can still be healthy. You just have to start now.”

The result is what the class is calling a Walk ‘N Talk for the entire school, inspired by the American Heart Association’s Healthy For Good program that encourages small lifestyle changes that add up to a big difference.

As students, their parents and guests stride around the CDS track and visit information booths and activity stations, they’ll get water and healthy snacks, tips on exercise and encouragement to make a lasting commitment to their health.

“Too many Americans are obese and overweight and we need to make a change,” said Ranai Gosine. “We were thinking of ways to spread the word and make it fun.”

The Walk ‘N Talk is this year’s answer to an annual challenge for Monty’s fifth-grade class. For a project called Exhibition, the students pick an issue, learn what they can do to help, and present it to the entire school.

“It’s a student-driven, student-initiated unit where the kids start looking at problems that can be local, national or global,” the teacher said. “They have to research to become knowledgeable about it and then their job is to educate others.

“In the fall they start submitting themes they’re interested in. It’s different every year and I have no idea what they’re going to pick.”

Previous classes have delved into topics such as homelessness, animal abuse and the dangers of texting and driving. This year, Monty said, her 15 students focused on health.

“After many class discussions they voted on this,” she said. “It was great to see how passionate they became on the subject.”

The class invited experts, including a doctor and a personal trainer, to talk about nutrition, exercise and the connection between making good choices as youngsters and avoiding health problems later in life. Their online research turned up the AHA’s Healthy For Good, which supplies tips and inspiration to people of all ages.

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Students in Barbie Monty’s fifth grade class discuss their upcoming Walk ‘N Talk project. From left: Charlie Woeste, Madison Bouie, Ayedean Sharabyani, Vasili Sotiropoulos, Max Rabenstein, Sonia Gohil, Logan Watson.

The initiative describes itself as “a revolutionary movement to inspire you to create lasting change in your health and your life, one small step at a time. The approach is simple: Eat smart. Add color (referring to fruits and vegetables). Move more. Be well.”

That approach, Monty said, led to the idea of the Walk ‘N Talk, where the students can combine education and motivation with some light cardio at the beginning of the school day. Final details and guests are still being worked out, she said.

In the meantime, the fifth-graders are taking their own steps. The teacher said her students have become fixated on a website and phone app called Fooducate, which rates various foods for nutritional value and suggests healthier alternatives.

“My kids have been scanning left and right and I’ve seen their snacks change,” Monty said, “I’m seeing fresh fruits and nuts. One of my students was even inspired to create a healthy snack pledge and started signing people up.”

Ayedean Sharabyani said he has taken that message to his family, “and we started eating more healthy than we were. I’m exercising more, too.”

He knows he’s growing up in a world full of junk food, huge portions and endless temptation. “But we’ve learned that diseases can come from these food choices,” he said. “So I know what can happen if you eat too much of them.”

Monty knows that lessons learned and promises made in elementary school may not last forever. But the fervor and commitment going into Walk ‘N Talk makes her an optimist.

“I love it that they are 11 years old and they’re thinking about the future and trying to make healthier choices,” she said. “I hope this is a new life choice they’re making. They are really passionate about this and they’ll make a difference in their lives and their family’s lives.”