"I am pretty impressed," Dawes said. "And I think it is ... very important that we teach our children good habits young so it becomes a way of life."
Dawes, who competed in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics, said she was involved in gymnastics for 18 of her 32 years. She was part of the women's gymnastics team that won the gold medal in the team competition at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. She also won a bronze medal in 1996 in the floor exercise, and was part of the team that won the bronze medal in the 1992 team competition in Barcelona, Spain.
These days, her focus is on sharing the motivational message of the importance of healthy eating and physical activity, Dawes said.
Food service assistant Juanita Kiel spearheaded the school's involvement in the national program that earned them the top spot in the statewide "Power Up with School Breakfast!" contest.
"It's been a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun," said Kiel, who strung all of the cereal labels into lengths that circled the school's gym.
Kiel said with their goal attained, the students requested pancakes for breakfast.
Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, Washington County School Board Vice President Ruth Anne Callaham and Doris J. Nipps, executive director of the PenMar Development Corp., also attended the event, as did representatives of PenMar Development Corp., the U.S. Marine Corps, the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Blue Ridge Summit (Pa.) Fire Department and the school system's central office administration.
In addition to stressing the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast, the breakfast challenge provided a wealth of real-life math opportunities for older students. They calculated how many boxes of Cheerios the 127 students at the school would have to eat to reach their goal and approximated when they thought the 1 million mark would be reached.
Rewards and incentives were offered along the way, with a new tally made daily on the goal thermometers in the cafeteria hallway.
Several staff members agreed to take pies in the face at various milestones, and principal Rose Pellegrino dressed as a chicken and did the Chicken Dance during the assembly. Fifth-grade teacher Austin Gray donned a superhero costume and joined Pellegrino in the dance.
Kiel said she was surprised at the interest the challenge generated from near and far. When the manager of the General Mills plant in Belvedere, Ill. -- where Cheerios are manufactured -- heard about the school's project, he sent a letter and photographs of workers from each shift holding up the individual portion boxes of Cheerios such as the ones the students were eating.
He asked students to calculate how many Cheerios are made annually at the plant. Gil Leder, a General Mills representative from Owings Mills, Md., came to the celebration to read aloud a letter. It turns out the Illinois plant produces 1 million cases of bowl-pack Cheerios a year.
Brenda Schwaab of the Maryland State Board of Education said the contest was open to the approximately 1,500 schools in the state.
The second-place winner was Maple Elementary School in Dorchester County. Oakdale Elementary School in Frederick County was awarded third place.
Cascade Elementary School is one of 17 Washington County schools that offers free breakfast to all students in the school every day school is in session through a program called Maryland Meals for Achievement.