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These Shoes Were Made for Running/Walking

Stop by Jefferson Elementary in Blaine, Minnesota, on a Thursday afternoon, and you are likely to find teachers, parents, and more than half of the student body outside on the track. A runner for many years, Principal Kim Pavlovich has created a simple and inexpensive run/walk program that gives her entire school community an alternative to the couch and television. Included: Find out what you need to start a run/walk program -- and how to keep the students coming back.

"When I first began this program, I had visions of myself running with our fastest, most athletic students," says Principal Kim Pavlovich. "I realized quickly that the biggest impact has been on those students who are not the traditional athletes."

Three years ago, Pavlovich established an after-school run/walk program at Jefferson Elementary School in Blaine, Minnesota. As a runner for many years, she hoped to use her experience to motivate her students. Additionally -- and somewhat selfishly, she admits -- Pavlovich wanted to create an after-school program that allowed her to connect with students, regardless of their past encounters related to behavior.

Run/walk program participants proudly sport their signature red t-shirts with Principal Kim Pavlovich.

"Principals spend a disproportionate amount of time with the small percentage of children who make poor choices," Pavlovich told Education World. "I wanted to spend time with the others and have a positive experience with those who spend time in my office for negative situations."

RUNNING/WALKING BECOMES A "MOVEMENT"

Pavlovich's initial vision involved 20 students running around a track with her. She introduced the program to just fourth and fifth grades, and parents immediately expressed an interest in having younger siblings attend. She opened the program to the entire student body and had about 100 students in the first year.

Every time the program has been offered -- each fall and spring for 10 weeks -- it has continued to grow. Today, 480 out of the school's 710 students take part, with all grade levels equally represented.

"The thing that has surprised me most about run/walk club is how many children repeatedly participate and how smoothly it runs even with over 400 children," observed Heidi Hedlund, a third grade teacher. "They normally act responsibly, work hard, and have a lot of fun. It is an excellent opportunity for them to spend time with each other and the teachers while getting in some exercise."

Hedlund enjoys joining in the walk every Thursday, and she finds that it is the perfect opportunity to simply talk with students and their parents.

"It is so nice to hear stories about the students' families, their plans for the summer, and what place they took in their basketball tournaments," she said. "It really makes me feel closer to the students, parents, and staff."

To Kristina Wingate, Jefferson's social worker, the beauty of the program is that it gives the kids a sense of belonging. "It continues to help me build relationships with the students," she explained. "I think it's a great way for students to see their teachers or social workers having fun and participating in an activity outside of the school day."

"If it's possible, I think every school should implement this program," says Amber Johnson, a math recovery teacher. "Not only do I get to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise, but the students think it is really cool to see their teachers participating in the program too. It's fun to see them outside the school setting and sometimes even race them. What a great way to get students outside and moving around!"

TAKING ACTION TO IMPROVE ACTIVITY

Jefferson's run/walk program is one that can be easily implemented in any school or organization with minimal financial commitment, Pavlovich suggests. From the beginning, she chose to offer this program free of charge to students, and the school has received grants from Medtronic, local merchants, and Target to provide shirts and other incentives to keep the program going.

Reason to Run: Incentives Keep Kids Moving

Kim Pavlovich and her team of adult walkers maintain the students' interest in the run/walk program in part with incentives for continued participation. A grant from Medtronic has allowed the school to purchase t-shirts, plastic "feet," and healthy snacks to serve at the end of each period.

"The plastic feet are fairly popular items across the country and in many other schools and organizations," Pavlovich reported. "After using them for the past two years, I can see why! Students receive a foot each time they turn in an exercise journal. During run/walk club, our volunteers are each given a small baggie with approximately 30-40 feet. They give the incentives out to students who are showing outstanding effort, or good behavior. Students have been given chains to use to show off their collections."

The biggest incentive, says Pavlovich, has been free T-shirts. Wearing a club shirt has become a source of pride among the students -- they feel like members of an elite group of athletes! The red shirts also contribute to security because they stand out and help the adults monitor all of the participants.

"In past years, we also recorded our mileage on a giant world map," added Pavlovich. "Every 15 minutes of an activity equaled one mile. As a school with a large number of English language learners, we planned our route around the world to correspond with the students' birthplaces. Over a two-year time span, we traveled thousands of miles and visited nearly every country in the world. This was a great visual and will be something we will bring out again in the fall."

Pavlovich believes a successful program needs
  • a core group of staff/parents who are truly committed to the idea and are willing to organize and run each week's event. Jefferson has approximately 10-15 staff members who volunteer their time and another 10-15 parents who have very specific jobs ranging from set up, taking attendance, supervising students on the track, tear down, and dismissal. Without this committed group of individuals, the program wouldn't run smoothly and safely.
  • a commitment to student safety. At Jefferson, attendance is taken before the running/walking begins. Several volunteers are licensed health professionals who are available for minor injury assessment and care. (It is important to be aware of school district guidelines about what volunteers can and cannot do.) Safety patrols are available to cross students at busy intersections during dismissal.
  • detailed, consistent procedures for arrival and dismissal. Parents won't allow students to participate if the event doesn't appear to be a safe, controlled environment. Jefferson students sit down by grade level at designated cones for attendance and are sent to the track by grade after they have warmed up, to keep older students from running over and into younger ones. At 4:45, students are directed to a specific dismissal location. All 480 students, staff, and volunteers met in the gym on the first day for a PowerPoint discussion about the rules and routines. Pavlovich and her staff believe that this resulted in fewer injuries, better behavior, and a more positive experience overall.
  • good role models! The school schedules "guest runners/walkers" that include staff, firefighters, police officers, the middle school principals, high school athletes, and other community volunteers to run and walk with the students.

    The 2006-2007 school year was especially exciting because Jefferson Elementary joined in the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award program. Sponsored by General Mills, it asks students to make a commitment to complete at least 60 minutes of physical activity five days per week for six weeks and record their activities in logs. Students who completed this program received a special badge and certificate and were honored at an assembly. The run/walk participants actively used exercise journals, so this incentive fit well into the existing program.

    A COMMUNITY OF RUNNERS/WALKERS

    "I love every time a student asks me, 'Mrs. Pav, will you run with me?'" Pavlovich reported. She also loved witnessing the transformation of a child who had previously told her that he hated running. His attitude began to change when she challenged him to run just as far as a nearby pine tree.

    "By the last day of the fall program, he was able to run the entire 30 minutes with me and was an inspiration to his classmates who, because of his size, never thought he would be able to be a runner," recalled Pavlovich. "We always promote the idea that anyone, regardless of size, coordination, age, or perceived athletic ability, can be a runner."

    The positive impact of the program is what Missy Meyers, a parent volunteer, finds most impressive about it. "In talking to the kids, I find that they are very aware of the things it takes to stay healthy -- good eating habits, exercise, getting enough sleep," she said. "I don't think those things crossed my mind as an elementary student!"

    The quality time spent walking with her two children has been Meyers' favorite aspect of the activity. After completing attendance duties, she catches up with her kids, who are in the third and fifth grades, for an uninterrupted chat about their day at school.

    "I also believe it is a great program for those kids who don't participate in other programs such as baseball and soccer," observed Meyers. "These kids now have an opportunity to get into the habit of regular exercise."

    As for what the students like most about the run/walk program, fifth grader Rachel H. reports that she joined because she thought it would be fun to "hang out" with her friends and get active, but she has found an amusing fringe benefit. "I can talk with my friends who I don't see much in school, and I can avoid doing my homework for an extra hour!" she said.

    Alexandra F., also in fifth grade, enrolled to loosen up her muscles before dance class. She appreciates that she can meet new people while she gets active. She adds, "You can stay fit, and before you do your homework, it kind of wakes up your memory and you do better."

    "You have a lot of fun and you get cool prizes like the little feet," Brianna C., another fifth grader, shared. "You get to stay active and not even notice that you're being active because you are having so much fun."

    With daughters in fifth and third grade and a son in kindergarten, Christine Kallestad explains that the run/walk program and exercise journals have motivated her family to be more active.

    "My children and I have decided at times when the weather is nice to walk to places that are close by, such as church, not only for our health but for our exercise journals. Those points keep adding up!" Kallestad said. "This goal of the journals seems to combine what we do at home to what is going on with school, linking the two in a way they weren't before."

    It is rewarding for Pavlovich to listen to families talk about how the run/walk program has impacted their healthy eating and lifestyle habits. Participating families say that they run and walk together and take up new sports as a family, and some have even lost weight.

    Pavlovich herself runs in part because she has a strong family history of heart disease. For her, running is a stress reliever. She even claims that some of her best problem-solving is done while she is running. Training for a marathon is good mental and physical discipline for the principal, and she finds that she is more productive in every aspect of her life when she is chasing a goal like a marathon.

    "That being said, I'm not expecting my students to become mini-marathoners!" confesses Pavlovich. "I just want students to spend time moving, not sitting in front of the television or playing video games. Even if a child only runs/walks during that 30 minutes every Thursday, at least that's time not spent being sedentary."

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

    KidsWalk-to-School
    This program from the CDC encourages kids to walk to and from school with adult supervision.

    International Walk to School
    Learn about the international community celebration of walking to school, held in October.

    Kids and adult chaperones take part in Jefferson Elementary's 30-minute after school run/walk.

    Article by Cara Bafile
    Copyright © 2007 Education World®

    Originally posted 05/18/2007
    Last updated 04/25/2008

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