Angelina Antonizio, 11, a sixth grader at Sherman Elementary School, has a football signed by New England Patriots defensive back and kickoff returner Devin McCourty. But it’s not only because she’s a Pats fan. Angelina is a Rhode Island Ambassador for Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation’s largest in-school nutrition and physical activity program, which is sponsored by the National Football League (NFL) and the National Dairy Council in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On Sept. 17, she visited Gillette Stadium where she interacted with professional football players and other New England-based state ambassadors.
“It was really exciting because I never met a football player before in person,” she said. “We took videos and had a photo shoot.”
Since winning a national contest for the ambassador title in April, Angelina has been coming up with ways to inspire students to eat healthy and be active. She encourages fellow Sherman students, as well as schoolchildren throughout the state, to increase their intake of nutrient-rich foods and make sure they perform 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
“I’m happy because I really wanted to be an ambassador to help out the school and other schools in Rhode Island,” Angelina said.
Angelina reminds her peers that exercise is fun. She said it is as simple as playing a game of soccer with friends during recess. And eating healthy is a must.
“I like salmon and corn,” she said.
Aside from her recent trip to Gillette, Angelina has been busy. In July, she visited America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., home of the Carolina Panthers, for a four-day, all-expenses-paid national Student Ambassador Summit.
Angelina, as well as 67 student representatives and 50 adult program advisors, received leadership training and discussed ways to make positive changes at their schools during the upcoming school year.
“When I was there, we talked about different ideas for our school and our state,” said Angelina, who also participated in football drills led by Carolina Panthers players Ben Hartsock, Steve Smith and Luke Kuechly. The athletes also advised the children to eat healthy and remain active.
During the last three years, Sherman’s school nurse Donna Rainone has served as a program advisor. She’s applied for multiple grants through the program, raising $5,100 for Sherman, and uses the funds to promote healthy living by distributing jump ropes, beach balls, a limbo stick, yoga mats and more to students. Recently, she obtained pedometers for each child.
She encourages them to use the items during recess and usually brings a boom box every Friday so students will dance during outdoor recess.
“We are very fortunate,” Rainone said, noting that she plans to initiate a campaign in October to persuade children to wear or bring sneakers to school. “Even if they are wearing a pretty dress or a nice pair of slacks, they can still wear sneakers. They will move more and play more in sneakers.”
Each grant application includes details about nutritious breakfasts, lunch, physical education and other activities for students. Some of the grant money is also used to purchase food products for student taste tests.
Sherman also recently changed food venders, and is serving healthier options during breakfast and lunch.
“Foods are improving,” Rainone said.
Guidance Counselor Kristin Murray is also a program advisor with Rainone. They are proud of Angelina’s efforts.
“It’s a wonderful recognition,” Rainone said. “With it comes a lot of responsibilities because she will be attending different events.”
The next event will be the Healthy Schools Coalition Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Oct. 2. Rainone estimates about 300 people will be in attendance.
“It’s a big deal,” said Murray, who recently became an advisor and accompanied Angelina to North Carolina. “Angelina met tons of kids she never would have met. She made friends quickly and really took on the role.”
Rainone also wants to make parents more aware that the online portion of the program is user-friendly and safe. It can be found at FuelUpToPlay60.com.
“Children are able to play inspirational games on it, learn about different activities, and earn points and badges,” she said. “Getting people to sign up has been the biggest challenge we’ve had in all three years. It’s a great health initiative.”
Angelina agrees. Sherman will soon begin after school meetings with student committee members, with Angelina heading the committee.
“It helps kids stay healthy,” she said. “It’s fun because you get to try new foods and you get to do different activities.”
According to a press release, Fuel Up to Play 60 helps students in nearly 73,000 schools nationwide, including 378 schools in Rhode Island. The program encourages and recognizes schools and students with rewards, such as special events and prizes.
For more information about Fuel Up to Play 60 and the Student Ambassador Program, visit www.FuelUpToPlay60.com or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/FuelUpToPlay60.