A Maryland Elementary School Runs To Fitness

A popular running club at Orchard Grove Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland has seemingly accomplished what many thought impossible.

Begun in 2009, its running club has resulted in rocketing fitness scores, dwindling discipline problems, rising test scores, improved self-esteem, and a 99 percent student participation rate. As if all this wasn’t enough, the Washington Post reports that the school just won a highly competitive grant from the Henkel Corporation for the construction of a three-lane, one-fifth-mile track to be built in its hilly backyard.

Here’s how it works:

The school’s “mileage club” began handing out charms shaped as shoes as an incentive for kids to run during recess. At that time, teachers just wanted to give kids something to do during recess. They were concerned about the increase in fighting, verbal and physical abuse, and by the fact that most kids weren’t interested in any of the traditional playground games.

“We have kids here who don’t know how to play kickball,” said gym teacher Brenda Tarquinio.

So Tarquinio created a structure for recess. She began by setting up orange cones around the field. She used popsicle sticks to help the kids tally their laps on a course so that five laps was equal to a mile. For every 25 laps, she awarded them a small plastic shoe, which granted them entrance to the “mileage club.”

Gradually, the charms became more elaborate: snowflakes for running in January, Shamrocks in March, turkeys in November. Names of members in the marathon club (26 miles) were posted on the gymnasium wall. Then came the 100-mile club (500 laps). The charms became an Orchard Grove fan, akin to friendship bracelets or virtual pet key chains.

Round and round the track the children ran – each day at lunch and/or at recess. Many teachers joined in to help encourage the students (and, to get in shape themselves).

“I started to enjoy running, instead of just doing it for the token,” said 4th grader David Akuokoh.

Along the way, David has lost 10 pounds and earned 33 pendants which he proudly wears on a necklace every day to school.

Assistant Prinicipal Marylyn Mathews has reported that the number of children sent to her office after lunch has decreased from seven per day to three per week. “It really changed the culture of the school”, she said.

Now, when Diana Rabideau’s first graders return from lunch, she helps them figure out how many more laps they need to get another pendant. “They’re learning and mastering math skills by their running,” she said.

In the fourth grade, Dylan Wilson often walked around with his head down and always seemed to need help in class. Then he started to run. When he posted the second fastest time in the county in the 100-meter dash, younger kids in the school started to admire his speed. Once a frustrated student who used to cry to his teacher that he couldn’t do his work, Dylan now boasts proudly of his A in math.

Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education sums it all up saying, “This is the model. Most kids’ experience with running have only been in spurts. Here is a program that teaches how to pace yourself and gain endurance. And, at the end of the day, they can do so much more than they ever imagined.”

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