Small voices hooted and sneakers squeaked on vinyl flooring in Roslindale’s Haley Pilot School one recent morning, as small arms and legs pinwheeled in hurried jumping jacks.
“This is too much work!” cried 12-year-old Pedro Cruz, as he raced from a central pile of clear plastic cups to an orange traffic cone where classmates stacked cups they had just snagged.
The game was demanding but also rewarding for this fifth-grade class, and for children in some of the world’s most impoverished nations, because each step the Boston students ran brought starving children overseas closer to lifesaving nourishment.
The Haley is one of 32 Boston public schools and 57 across Massachusetts participating in the UNICEF Kid Power program. Through the program, students wear wrist devices that record physical activity and reward them with points toward food for malnourished children.
“They like the opportunity to help other children,” said Teresa Starble, who teaches physical education at Haley. “The philanthropic aspect of it, to them, is very, very motivating.”
Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang will attend a pep rally at the Haley on Monday to celebrate the program.
“This initiative offers our students an opportunity to be change agents in the world, become healthy and active, and study other cultures,” Chang said in a statement. “They will have a positive impact on the world, and we’re glad to be a part of this movement of kindness and generosity.”
For every 10 points — about 2,400 steps — earned during Kid Power Month, which runs March 7 to April 7, children unlock one packet of high-density, nutritious paste to help a child recover from severe, acute malnutrition.
A regimen of 150 packets over 30 days can save a child’s life, UNICEF says.
The program teaches students — almost 115,000 in the United States, Scotland, and the Netherlands, with about 5,000 in Boston — about the lives of children in developing countries and feeds children in Haiti, Burkina Faso, and Uganda, said Rajesh Anandan, a senior vice president for the US Fund for UNICEF.
“The packets that have already been unlocked ... have been enough to treat over 2,780 severely and acutely malnourished children — and you can translate that to lives saved,” Anandan said.
Matthew Bane, New England managing director for the US Fund for UNICEF, said his own children are Kid Power participants.
“They really love it,” he said. “When we started ... every day I’d come home and my third-grader would be looking at me and saying, ‘How many points did you get today?’ ”
Even Haley student Pedro, who said that morning’s game was hard, also said he enjoyed using play to help others.
“I’ve been running a lot, and also just shaking my hand, like this” — he demonstrated — “to gain points,” said the smiling Dorchester resident, as he suggested that vigorous arm movements could help rack up points faster.
Classmate Oliver Blake, who declared his age as “10 and three-quarters,” said the game was good for team building and might help his class get along better. The Kid Power program has taught him about children’s lives in other countries, he said, and encouraged him to be active.
“I’m usually one of those people that just likes sitting on the couch all day watching TV,” said Oliver, who lives in Jamaica Plain.
“Once I heard about this program, I got really motivated to start moving, and helping. Feeling that . . . I can help a bunch of people that need help.”