Mike Frank, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, stood on the playground at Poly Drive Elementary on Wednesday, squinting in the bright afternoon sun, watching more than 100 kids race around and play about a half-dozen vigorous games.
"This is the first time I've seen it in action," he said. "But it's absolutely exceeding our expectations."
That "it" is the Big Sky State Games' Fit Kids Club, a new program funded through a Blue Cross Foundation grant that encourages school kids to be more active through before-school and after-school programs.
On Wednesday, the state games, Blue Cross and Poly took a few moments to showcase the program — one of 28 across Montana — at the school, at 2410 Poly Drive.
After a quick ceremony outside, more than 100 kids, or about a third of the student population, broke off into groups and began hollering and racing their way through game stations over 30 minutes that included games such as capture the flag, parachute, sharks and minnows, kickball and lightning.
Beginning last February, the Fit Kids Club gives kids at participating schools at least 90 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week for 12 weeks.
"We here at Poly Drive, we know how fun it is to exercise," said Golden Apple Award-winning health enhancement teacher Molly Reas, who coordinates the program for Poly Drive. "We how great it feels."
Fit Kids Club is coordinated by health enhancement teachers at each individual school and paid for with a $156,000 grant — including $1,000 to each participating school — awarded to the state games from the Foundation for Healthy Montanans, which was set up and is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield to prevent childhood obesity in the state.
"Kids just aren't getting enough physical activity and this program is designed to fight that," Frank said.
The rest of the money goes toward upgrading the program's Web experience, increasing participation and rewards for Big Sky Fit Kids and the Shape Up Montana program and the state games.
Karen Sanford Gall, Big Sky State Games director, said the organization used Reas' conditioning club at Poly Drive, now reworked into the Fit Kids Club, as an example of how such programs could work when applying for the foundation grant.
"We're hoping to take it statewide next," she said.
The goal behind Poly's version is to keep it fun while providing plenty of exercise. If the legion of chattering, laughing, breathless kids there on Wednesday was any indication, the program is well on its way toward the goal.
"This program right here is the model for all of Montana," Principal Kevin Croff told the kids just a few minutes before they bounded off to their stations.