Frost was covering the ground last Friday, February 8 but that didn’t stop the Highland Elementary School Running Club from showing up to run laps at 7:45 a.m.
Over 150 kids from kindergarten to fifth grade run laps before school starts early every Friday in an effort to become healthier and to socialize with friends as they do.
First grade teacher David Westendorf is an avid runner who trains regularly and has run over 30 marathons in the last 10 years.
Westendorf thought it would be a great experience for students to learn the basics of training and to build endurance, so he began the club in October of last year.
“I had been doing it with my first graders and trying to install good health ethics in the kids,” Westendorf said. “The first day over 150 kids showed up in the rain and we’ve never had less than 100 kids since the program started. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
The Running Club works hand-in-hand with The Leader in Me Program the school has adopted. The Leader in Me is a program that was developed by Steven R. Covey to help schools inspire greatness in their students.
For every lap the students run they get a punch in their punch car. After they reach five laps they earn a charm to add to their necklace. Many of the students have already earned their 26.2 charm, which indicates that they have run laps equal to that of a full marathon.
While there are many reasons the kids enjoy the program earning those charms has great appeal.
“I love to run because I am really fast and I get some prizes,” Ian Wright, 6, said.
Parents have stepped to punch the cards for the kids and the PTA hosts a water station all because they can see the positive effects it is having on their kids.
“It has given them a sense of well-being and I feel like they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of healthy choices,” Andrea Wright, one of the moms who helps punch cards said. “Noah’s endurance is so much better now.”
Running was tough for many of the kids but as they weeks have gone by they have seen a huge difference in how far they can run without stopping.
“It’s amazing,” Westendorf said. “Many of the kids couldn’t make it around the track even once and now they are running around several times.”
The students have even noticed a difference in their concentration level, especially at the end of the day.
“It’s fun and it helps us ‘Sharpen the Saw’ (Habit 7 from The Leader in Me Program),” Oscar Westendorf, 9, said. His brother Gus, 5 added, “It gives you lots of exercise.”
“I think we just do it for fun but it makes you so exhausted but at the end of the day you have more energy because you ran.” Jacquelyne Infante, 11, said.
Each week Westendorf comes up with something different to keep the kids motivated. At Christmas he held what he called the Reindeer Run. He came dressed up like a reindeer and the kids had to chase him around the track. Other weeks he may set-up cones at different locations and when the kids get to the cones they are supposed to run faster.
Many of the kids are now excited to run marathons of their own someday and some of the kids said that their parents want to run with them. As their endurance grows so does their self-esteem and really that’s what it is all about.