The gymnasium at Leroy H. Smith School was rollicking Friday as students cheered Principal Dawn Moore’s announcement — their school would compete in the annual WinterKids Winter Games this month.

The outdoor physical activity and nutrition competition is in its third year and encourages young children to develop healthy habits over the course of the four-week program. Each week the program will feature specific challenges, and the percentage of students who complete the challenge will determine how many points each school receives.

Schools compete to earn as many points as possible for the grand prize of $5,000 donated to their school. In total 7,332 students and 1,113 teachers and staff from every county in Maine (two schools per county) will participate in the Winter Games.

Moore said this was her school's first year competing and students would need to “learn quickly.” She also said she was very excited and looking forward to the competition.

The timing was tough, she said, finding out they were chosen to compete right before Christmas break, but she added that the kids are really excited. “January can be a dark and cold month,” she said, “This gives a renewed feeling and will bring some new life to this month.

“Getting kids outside is important for their brains,” she said. “We will incorporate some fun activities to get them in the fresh air. It’s all for fun and anytime you can incorporate education into it, it is great with us.”

Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, last year’s Silver Medal winner, kicked off its celebration Jan. 7.

Second grade teacher Briana Brennick attributed Ames' success last year to the high level of participation by everyone.

"It's all about getting everyone engaged," she said. "The key to doing well is, we had such a great turnout by parents and by the community as a whole."

Ames Principal Lori Smail said the students appreciated the collaborative effort by all the teachers and felt the content piece was important. The idea that you are not sitting in a classroom, she said, and that you can learn anywhere, captured children's imaginations.

Brennick added, "Also that staying healthy can be fun."

This year’s theme is STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math). Past winners include Searsport Elementary School in Waldo County and Dayton Consolidated School in York County.

The Winter Games will close Jan. 31 and winners will be announced Feb. 6. In addition to the $5,000 grand prize, there is $3,000 for Silver, and $1,500 for Bronze, plus numerous equipment and field trip prizes for participating schools.

WinterKids is run by a nonprofit organization with the same name, and is funded by grants and private donations.