On the Run

Rivergold Elementary fifth graders are tireless running machines. They run with paperwork to the school office. They run to class, during recess, and if allowed, they run the three-quarter mile Rivergold Lap before lunch. When they stop to take a breather, they check the pedometer on their wrists to see how much closer they are to their goal.

With this collective mindset, they will easily surpass a fitness goal set in early September - that each student reach 100 miles while on the school campus. Some eager participants are easily pushing 80 miles since the fitness project began.

“We discussed this as a class,” teacher Antonetta Haggard said. “We wanted to model fitness and become more active. Madera County has a high rate of obesity and I thought we could model being healthy at school.”

The 60 students (in two fifth-grade classes, one with Haggard and the other with teacher Kay Emmert) have averaged 20-70 miles while at school.

Using pedometers purchased through a grant by Donors Choose, they have tracked progress, and have also paired with a “pal” for encouragement, and as a reminder to wear the pedometer. (The students aren’t allowed to wear these pedometers home).

“My personal goal was to raise each student’s awareness of their individual potential, as well as the class or group potential,” Haggard added, “and I hope to help them attain a school memory that they will never forget.”

The student consensus is that exercise is much more fun wearing the pedometer than not, because they can count steps.

“I think the pedometers make us want to run more, to push, and challenge ourselves to stay fit,” Ellie Jensen-Pierce explained.

“Running is good for your body. You get stronger, and you’re not just sitting around playing video games, and eating chips,” George Curley said.

“While this project began with my fifth-graders this year,” Haggard said, “my hope is to turn it into a school-wide fitness goal next year. Fit bodies make for better students.”

Haggard plans on selling the pedometers to fifth-graders who are interested, and then using this money to purchase other pedometers for future classes.

It seems that this fitness craze has taken on a life of its own, spilling over into home routines and food choices. The young participants encourage friends outside school, as well as family members, to get moving and to eat right.

“We’re trying to inspire other kids to run, and to like running,” Jaycee Lough said. “It makes us all feel healthier.”

“Our brains work better, too,” Baylee Matteson added.

“Exercise has helped me make better choices food-wise. I’m eating less junk food now,” Emily Cozzi said.

“In science class, I made a goal to eat only two junk foods a week,” Bailey Elliott added. “When my mom makes lunch, I tell her ‘stop ... I need more fruits and vegetables.’”

It is hoped that by promoting wellness and health, the philosophy of good eating habits, along with physical exercise, will stay with these young students well into their adulthood.

The project has certainly kicked Andrew Greathouse into gear. He will soon participate in a Spartan Race for the first time.

“I’ll be running the kid’s version for now,” he said, “... two miles, and there may be some obstacles like monkey bars or crawling under logs. Running at school got me excited about this. I’m ready to prove I can run, and that I can finish.”

Greathouse said about 200 children, ages 5-16, participate. He hopes to finish in the top 50.