Two Marana Unified School District elementary school P.E. teachers received $5,000 grants to help their respective schools keep their students fit.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona awarded 2014 Walk On Challenge grants  to Cathy Missler from Coyote Trail Elementary and Lisa Rickel from Thornydale Elementary.

The teachers won the grants by having students participate in the challenge, which called on fifth-graders to keep journals in February about ways they are infusing healthy habits into their lives.

Nearly 27,000 students from 212 schools took part in the challenge. Students reported eating more than 475,000 servings of fruits and vegetables and exercising for more than 121,000 hours.

Three other teachers in the state also received $5,000 grants.

Both MUSD teachers plan to use the money to upgrade equipment and facilities to encourage students to exercise.

Rickel is using the funds to build a 400-meter walking path around the playground. She plans to raise an additional $8,000 to $12,000 to install fitness stations along the path, with exercise equipment and instructions for workouts.

“Since I am a P.E. teacher, obviously this is a very important issue to me,” she said. “I think it’s a scary epidemic of kids not eating healthy and not exercising enough. It’s important to learn at a young age how important a healthy lifestyle is. It’s my goal to help educate kids on how to be healthy.”

Missler will buy playground equipment meant for special-needs kids — such as wheelchair swings — to integrate with existing playgrounds. She’ll also buy more materials she’ll use to teach students about health and nutrition.

“This grant is gonna help a lot,” she said. “There is no money anymore to add equipment and get things that are out of the ordinary. With this grant I can get some things that might be able to benefit the kids.”

Rickel said she will use the fitness stations in her classes, teaching kids proper form and technique. She also thinks it will benefit the community at large.

“The coolest thing is that it will bring parents to Thornydale Elementary,” she said. “It’s a walking neighborhood. Students live in walking distance from the school, so it can be a family event to hang out at school after hours.”

Both teachers say they see a need for all kids to exercise more and eat better. Missler said she thinks a lack of activity is a main reason children struggle with obesity.

“In general, we have kind of lost focus,” she said. “We need to change our view of what being physically fit is, and how to get there. We’ve just gotten lazy as a society.”

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or