Christmas in New York City

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Elizabeth Bracamontes, 9, crawls through a mock subway at Fremont Elementary School on Friday.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Elizabeth Bracamontes, 9, crawls through a mock subway at Fremont Elementary School on Friday.

It was exercise - not a plane, train nor automobile - that took third-graders at Fremont Elementary School 2,725 miles to New York City last week.

Of course, they weren't really there, but their teachers Debbie Mariskanish and Kathy Rothchild devised five activities that would let them feel as if they were in the Big Apple.

Students built skyscrapers, took the subway to Manhattan, kicked cans in Brooklyn, tossed popcorn to pigeons, and ate hot dogs at Coney Island - again, much of it being imaginary.

The subway was actually a trip on their hands and knees underneath several desks to reach Wall Street. Students, dressed in a borrowed suit jacket, had to count out $2.73 in fake money before they could return home. And it was a relay race, so they traveled fast - just like the real subway.

But all of the New York City activities touched on something real: state standards. And the ones that teachers met Friday morning included: speaking and listening in a conversation, counting money, building things with shapes, motor coordination and more.

Rothchild had written a list of new vocabulary words on the whiteboard that included: kindness, subway, Wall Street (recalled later as Elm Street by one child), Coney Island, skyscraper and alliteration.

But the make-believe trip to New York City was part of a larger 6-month project to promote exercise among students.

Each week, on their children's sign-off sheet, parents marked off time spent on homework, and also on exercise. Student Kayla Aikins' sheet was full with logged exercise time.

"I have an hour of ballet on Monday, an hour of jazz on Tuesday, 45 minutes of tap on Wednesday and an hour of tap on Thursday," the 9-year-old said. "I do a lot of walking and go to the Carson River, because we live nearby and swim in it, but not in the winter."

Every half-hour of exercise signed off by a parent equated to one mile of travel. And it has taken from late July, when Fremont students returned to school, for them to exercise enough to make it to New York City.

"It's kind of cool," said Isabel Villa, 9. "If we were exercising our way there, we would actually be there."

Rothchild got the idea to equate exercise with travel from an education journal. In it was talk about a teacher who was looking for a way to award students with something other than food.

"What she did was have them exercise enough for a trip to Tahiti, and then they had a luau when they got there," she said. "It was such a success the whole school got involved in it eventually."

Because the third-graders have half of the school year left, they will continue to exercise, and when they make it back to Nevada, they will celebrate with a rodeo. Parents can also exercise and contribute to increased mileage.

"(We're doing this) just because of the fact that kids are not healthy, and (I don't want to find out later on) that if we could have started focusing on exercise in third grade, they could be in much better shape."

Friday morning's first task started with a skyscraper-building project of 20 spaghetti noodles and 20 miniature marshmallows. Many of the groups of children began with cubes, which eventually collapsed due to instability.

The tallest skyscraper, measuring a height of 14.5 inches, was built by Caden Lehman, 9; Garrett Nicholson, 9; Jose Vargas, 8; and Skyler Silva, 9. They designed their skyscraper into a pyramid, put a marshmallow at the top then placed a noodle vertically.

"It feels good to win," said Caden. "We just looked around and saw how people were doing it, and figured out the best way to make it tall."

• Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at or 881-1219.


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