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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
A nationwide campaign designed to help encourage physical activity in young children has a major presence in our local schools.
"We have largely engineered physical activity out of our lives," said Daniel Hatfield, the senior specialist of engagement and analytics for the Billion Mile Race. "Fewer than half of children in the U.S. now meet the minimum recommendation for daily physical activity. We believe schools play a crucial role in changing this."
Dann Grossman, an intervention specialist at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Kettering, agrees and started a running program he hoped would engage every student at the school.
"I had a background in starting running clubs," Grossman said. "We found that exercise was a good way to stimulate our students' brains."
When Grossman transferred to John F. Kennedy three years ago, he was asked to sponsor the new running club. The first year, the club had 25 students signed up for the after school program.
"Kids are always asking me if they can join," Grossman said. "The first two years we had all third- through fifth-graders. This year we opened it up to second-graders."
The program was so popular that it doubled in size the second year, but Grossman found that 50 was too large, so he scaled the numbers down for this year.
"The kids love it," Grossman said. "We run outside on Mondays and Wednesdays and we go around our community."
Grossman allows the students to track their mileage and believes this not only promotes wellness but also honesty. He has several teachers that help by accompanying the students as they run but his goal is to get more teachers to volunteer so the club can grow.
At Park Layne Elementary School in Tecumseh, physical education teacher Barbara Cross has been working with kindergarten and first-graders on a program she started the beginning of this school year.
"I got a grant to get this program started and we use a bar code so students can track their laps on their own," Cross said. "The kids only get gym once a week so they are so excited to get out and run!"
Cross said that her young students generally love running and they want to "run as fast as they can for as long as they can."
She decided to see how many laps her students could run in the school year and she offers incentives for those completing a certain number of laps.
Cross was motivated to get the kids involved in a running program after talking with a fellow teacher who has fourth- and fifth-grade students.
"For some reason, the older kids complain about running," Cross said. "I began to wonder what changes in them between kindergarten and fifth grade, so I decided to keep encouraging the young kids who love it so much, hoping to instill in their minds that running isn't so bad."
Like Grossman, Cross is convinced that the benefits of physical activity carry over into the classroom.
"I'm hoping it will help them sit still and focus more," Cross said. "And help them in other aspects of their lives too."
At Springcreek Primary School in Piqua, Jennifer Huelskamp is in her second year teaching physical education classes to kindergarten through grade 3 students.
"I first heard about the Billion Mile Race at a conference in December," Huelskamp said. "We were already doing some things with our Walking Club and the kids were using pedometers to track steps."
There are six classes for each grade level at Springcreek and each grade is assigned a day when they may come in early to walk before school.
"We have a fun and exciting atmosphere," Huelskamp said. "They walk the first 10 minutes and the last few minutes the run."
Huelskamp also has incentives for steps completed but she said most of the kids are just excited to be running. She estimates about 30 percent of the students from each grade level are participating in the program.
"The Billion Mile Race has a goal to increase physical activity in children and to teach them lifelong healthy habits they can carry with them into adulthood," Huelskamp said. "It's an opportunity for the kids to walk and run with friends. I'm not going to single handedly solve the obesity problem but my hope is these good habits will continue through the teenage years."
The Billion Mile Race is a multi-year campaign and, according to Hatfield, the focus is getting to 100 million participants.
"I feel so grateful to be a part of this campaign," Hatfield said.
"It has inspired folks across the country to get new walking and running clubs started and to take their existing clubs to the next level. I think being part of a national movement is inspiring and we are fortunate to provide grants and prizes to schools the reward their efforts."
To get involved or for more information, log on to billionmilerace.org
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