EAST MANATEE -- Halloween is a time for tricks and treats, for running around in the dark from house to house and for chomping down on everything from chocolate bars to gummy bears.
But at Braden River Elementary School Friday morning, first-grade students learned healthy habits for Halloween -- and the other 364 days of the year -- as part of the school's first "Health-O-Ween" celebration. It was also the first time any district school took a healthy twist on Halloween in this way, officials said.
A number of different presenters moved between the first-grade classrooms Friday morning, teaching students everything from heart health to safety tips while trick or treating. "You always want to use the buddy system," Manatee County Sheriff's Office Deputy Christy Clerkin told students.
Clerkin and Deputy Lisa Gritzinger advised students to stay with a trusted adult, avoid strange cars, only go to houses that have lights on, bring a flashlight or glowstick, avoid shortcuts and to cross the street at safe spots with crosswalks rather than running out in the middle of the street.
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"Sometimes cars don't see you," said Clerkin, who has a son in first grade at the school.
Students also munched on healthy snacks, including carrots, pretzels and trail mix. Skye Grundy, a food and nutrition specialist for the district, dressed up in a watermelon costume to help educate the students on what a healthy plate of food looks like. Grundy gave students a handout, which broke down how each student's plate should look at meal times, divided between fruits, vegetables, protein and grain.
"Why is half the plate made up of fruits and vegetables?" Grundy asked the students.
"You've got to be healthy," answered first-grade student Jessica Mowrey.
Students also learned basic yoga moves and got to dance to Halloween songs while nurses measured their heights and weights.
Dental students at Manatee Technical Institute joined in on the festivities, with students acting out a short skit to remind students to brush at least twice a day for at least two minutes and to floss at least once a day. The MTI students handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the students as well.
Amber Price, one of the students, was dressed up as the tooth fairy costume and narrated the skit to the students.
"If you eat healthy food and brush your teeth, you can have happy, healthy teeth," she said.
Sue Troxler, a health services specialist with the district who oversees the school nurses, helped coordinate the event with Braden River Elementary nurse Cheryl Stuart. Troxler said this was the first time any district school had done a "Heatlh-O-Ween" celebration and based on the successes she saw Friday, she hoped other schools would follow suit next year. "It's a convenient day we can sneak this health education in," Troxler said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.