Project ACES celebrates 30 years

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

As they hop and jack and twirl, hundreds of pre-K through fifth-graders at Valley View Elementary School in Montville are breaking a sweat and adding their moves with millions of other students across the world for Project ACES, or All Children Exercise Simultaneously.

“We started a program here, we wanted to get all five elementary schools to exercise together,” said teacher and founder of Project ACES, Len Saunders. “But what happened was other people heard that we were doing this from New York and Connecticut and they wanted to join in, and before we knew it we had three states.”

What started as Saunders’ simple idea to keep kids fit blossomed to a worldwide event on the same day in May for the last 30 years.

Saunders explained, “All 50 states and about 50 countries are doing it. I got an email from someone today from Sweden and it was pretty cool looking at kids doing it, but they were wearing winter clothing.”

A team of students leads exercises for 10 minutes while kids everywhere do the same. It’s an idea that got nods from the likes of Sports Illustrated, Women’s Day and global media outlets.

Third-grader Mollie Goldberg said, “I liked how everyone worked together and we were able to be near our friends and got to hang out with everyone.”

Ethan Ho, another third-grader, weighed in saying, “It was pretty challenging because we’re doing it on a hot day so, when the sun beats down on you, it makes it harder for you to do your best.”

“I want kids to learn that exercise and eating right is important now because they’ll lead a healthy lifestyle when they’re adults. And that’s what I really want them to do, is to do this not only now, but when they get older,” said Saunders.

Saunders says kids need about 60 minutes of activity a day, but with tablets and tech vying for their attention, that’s happening less and less. New Jersey’s childhood obesity rate is just above the national average at 31.7 percent, ranking 21st in the nation.

“Right now type 2 diabetes is on the rise. When I was a kid, it was called adult onset diabetes, but not anymore because kids are getting it and it’s a direct correlation to obesity,” said Saunders.

“This helps emphasize the fact that exercise can be fun and that it’s something that you can do with your friends,” said Rene Rovtar, Montville Township Public Schools superintendent. “I think it definitely trickles outside the classroom.”

“I was overjoyed that they were following and it felt good to exercise in front of everyone and feel like a leader and feel like I’m helping my school,” said fifth-grader, Ines Lemae.

At 30 years strong, the hope is ACES and this worldwide exercise program will keep going for another 30.