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Students whip Santa into shape with school play
Friendship Elementary students perform the song “We’re in the Spirit” Thursday nightduring their Christmas musical program "Santa’s Getting Fit For Christmas."

Last year, all those cookies finally caught up with Santa and he got stuck in a chimney.

At least that was the premise behind an original play put on by fourth- and fifth-grade students at Friendship Elementary School Thursday night.

Music teacher Tara Shaw said she wrote the play after hearing a song written by Teresa Jennings called "Santa’s Getting Fit for Christmas" which was used in the play.

"I was inspired to write the play because we’ve been a wellness school for almost two years. So I just wanted to try to combine Christmas but also involve and educate the students, parents and the community on nutrition and exercise and getting healthy as well — since that’s our goal at the school," Shaw said.

The story follows Santa through the year while he exercises, eats right and incorporates healthy lifestyle changes to improve his overall health. His progress is gradual but by the time Christmas rolls around, he’s fitter than ever.

Nearly 100 students took to the stage to encourage Santa along his weight-loss journey by playing the parts of elves and reindeer.

Shaw said she wasn’t sure what the students would think about the play; however, she was very impressed with not only how the students performed in the play but how they took its message to heart.

"They’ve really taken to the idea and they’ve been really great. We do a lot of music and dancing ... and they’ve all had a great attitude about it and the message. So that has been a real positive response," Shaw said.

Several facts and figures for health were incorporated into the play’s script. Reindeers encouraged Santa to work out for at least 30 minutes while elves taught him what kind of healthy foods he should eat.

Chloe Leetch, a fourth-grade student, played one of the reindeers who had to break the news to Santa that he was just too heavy to pull around.

She said the play helped to teach her and her classmates about healthy habits.

"I think I learned a lot and that it’s really fun and that it’s really good for our school to be doing this," Leetch said.

Ben Jenkins, another fourth-grade student, played the part of "summer Santa."

He said it was hard work memorizing all his lines and the songs, but in the process he learned about ways to be healthier.

"I learned how to exercise more and eat healthy more," Jenkins said.

Shaw said she and the other teachers at the school focus on wellness in their classes. She likes to incorporate a lot of dance and music to give kids a chance to "energize" after being at school all day.

The school is striving to help children live healthier lives in an age where many young people are being diagnosed with weight-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

"We try to make (wellness) the central theme of everything we do. We don’t want to overdo it, but we pay attention to details," Principal Berry Walton said.

He said the school strives to prevent double standards.

Instead of celebrating a classroom achievement with cupcakes or an ice cream party, they may have extra time at recess or a fun activity.

"Our goal is just to begin emphasizing healthier lifestyle choices," Walton said. "We won’t see the benefits now but the children will see them later on. That’s what we’re after long term. We just want to create that understanding and willingness to take better care of yourself. The earlier the start the better."

As for Santa, maybe he’ll forgo the sugarplums and candy canes from now on.

Regional events