---- — By TESA GLASStesa.firstname.lastname@example.orgMT. VERNON — Students at the Primary Center are taking a trip to Chicago.It's an imaginary trip, with real fitness results."This is the fifth year we've done the Race to Chicago program," said Meagan Cruser, the physical education teacher. "On Fridays, we do track and I've been logging the number of laps they do. ... The Race to Chicago is a fun, motivational tool."The program is funded through a Safe Routes to School grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation, obtained by the city. This is the third year for the $3,000 grant, which has funded pedometers, tokens for motiviation and a pizza party for the winning class."It's so important to teach children at an early age to be fit," said Mt. Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley, who spoke with the students on Friday, issuing a challenge for a competition with city staff. Chesley and her group of eight city employees, will be racing the students to complete the 280 miles needed to get from Mt. Vernon to Chicago. The winning class that reaches Chicago first will win a pizza party, which they will enjoy with the mayor and her team."We have tokens for children as part of the Mileage Club," Cruser said. "After they complete so many laps and obtain so many miles, they get a token. They get a 5 mile token, 10 mile token, 15 mile token and up in 5 mile increments. The kids love getting the tokens, and it's a great motivational tool."In the second grade, the classes of Kirsch and Deaton will be competing against each other; Metcalf and Wallis will compete; Odle and McDowell will compete; and Phelps and Baumgarte will compete. Cruser said as there are not many weeks left in the school year, she has totaled the number of miles already logged by the students. Kirch's class as 165 miles and Deaton's 208; Metcalf's 178 miles and Wallis' 211; Odle's class has 191 miles and McDowell's 210; and Phelps class has 236 miles and Baumgarte's 216 miles."You have been working individually on Friday's," Cruser told the second grade students. "Now you are part of a team. You have to encourage each other on your team to achieve your goal. ... Remember, hard work brings success."In third grade, classes of Laur and Delk will compete against each other, Zgonina and Baumhoegger will compete, and Brose and Moore will compete. Laur's class has 233 miles and Delk's 252 miles; Zgonina has 217 miles, Baumhoegger 218 miles; and Brose has 224 miles, Moore 227 miles."I think we will have a hard time beating them," Chesley said. "But we'll give it a try."Chesley also unveiled a new city certified summer youth activity, "Stepping Out for Fitness." The program, which starts May 22 and ends June 22, encourages children from 7 years to 12 years to walk during the summer."The Stepping Out for Fitness activity is to provide encouragement for physical fitness while setting and achieveing a personal goal," information on the program states. "Regular exercise in nature is proven to improve children's physical and mental needs."Sign up dates are May 22 through June 22, and participants may sign up at the Parks and Recreation office at the Rolland W. Lewis Community Building at Veterans Park. Children must be accompanied by an adult, and all miles walked must be in walked in Veterans Park. Children must sign in at the beginning of each day they walk, and will receive a pedometer to keep track of the miles walked during the day. At the end of the day, children return to the park office, return the pedometer and have a staff member record the miles for the day's walk and sign out. At the end of the activity, awards and prizes will be given to all achieving the goal of 30 miles in 30 days. Prizes will be awarded June 22.Prizes include a choice of a $20 gift card from Pizza Hut, Steak & Shake, Chicago Dog, Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, Fazoli's, Arby's, Panda Express or Dairy Queen; or choice of a gift card from Game Stop, I-Tunes, AMC Theater, Maurices, Family Video, Hibbetts, Red Box Videos or Claire's Boutique; or the choice of one of two certificates for a swimming scholarship or a one day family pass to the new Aquatic Zoo.