LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - "Did you know that Mississippi is ranked first in obesity in the nation?" a student asked the crowd at Quarles Elementary.
The Long Beach students have been learning about the dangers of being overweight. On Thursday, they pledged to do something about it.
"Let's go walking!" they shouted.
To kick off "Walk to School Month", Quarles Elementary announced the "Walking Wednesday Challenge". Every Wednesday, students will take a mile-long stroll around the campus.
As an incentive, the school will rewarding each class with the most number of students that walk and ride their bikes to school and take part in the walking challenge. The winning class gets a weekly prize -- a golden sneaker.
Soon, walking to school will get a whole lot easier, thanks to a group of ten students. Two years ago, when they were in the fifth grade, the students worked on "Project Citizen". They had to find a problem in their community and figure out a solution. That problem was the rising obesity rate.
"We figured that we needed safe routes to school so kids can walk, because a lot of kids don't have sidewalks around their houses," said 7th grader Liz Haney. "So if we put in sidewalks, kids could walk to school and it would give them good exercise."
They submitted their proposal to the State Transportation Department. Over the summer, they learned that their project won a $320,000 grant.
The money will help the city build a sidewalk on the north side of Commission Road, from Daugherty to the Long Beach School District Office. The funds will also be used to paint cross walks and bike and pedestrian lanes in neighborhoods around the school.
"I was really excited. I was glad that we got an opportunity like this you know," said Maylin Dabbs.
"This is going to help a lot," said Michael Lopez. "My family used to talk about it. They said we want to start walking right away."
Dylan Cuevas says children need to get involved in their community and he says getting students excited about fitness is just the first step in fighting obesity.
"This will teach their kids to stay like fit and not be lazy and be on the couch and stuff," he said.
The mayor says the project is still in the environmental and engineering phase. The students' proposal also includes adding sidewalks from the corner of Klondyke and Cleveland to Long Beach Middle School.
Phase three involves building a sidewalk to connect the Quarles neighborhood to the middle school. Those projects have not received any funding yet.