Area schools introduce running programs for elementary, middle school students

By Gretchen Teske, The JOURNAL


Kids at Lincoln Elementary and Washington Middle School are gearing up for another school year, and another year of running. Two programs are in action at Lincoln for boys and girls to get active and stay active and the middle school has started their own program as well.

Lincoln Elementary boys in grades 4-6 have the opportunity to start a brand-new program this year. Let Me Run is also a national program that began in Charlotte, N.C., and has made its way to 29 states, including Iowa. The running club meets after school twice a week and will offer kids the chance to not only run, but learn about themselves as well. They go outside and run, then come back into a classroom and have a discussion about a variety of topics, all correlating to that week?s theme. The themes vary in range from confidence to kindness.

Carrie Rich is in charge of the program and says although it allows for the kids to engage in healthy competition and work on goal setting, it?s bigger than that. ?It?s not just running. It?s a curriculum for them to develop socially and emotionally,? she said. Through donations from Washington County Hospital and Clinics, Federation Bank and Premier One Supplies they were able to reduce the registration fee by half.

The seven-week program will begin Sept. 18, and for their first year as a team, 28 boys have signed up. Rich says their goal is to be able to run a 5k by November, but hopes they grow internally and learn to set and reach goals. ?Youth in general need an outlet to continue to build relationships and grown their circles,? she said. ?I hope they have improved self-esteem, some confidence and I hope they all met their goals that they set for themselves.?

Girls at Lincoln Elementary are gearing up for their second year of success with their program, Girls on the Run, a nationally recognized running club entering its second year at Lincoln. The program is for girls in grades three-five. The after-school club has 20 members and meets twice a week, giving the girls a chance to talk about bigger issues like solving problems, building confidence and making new friends. ?They?re all different themes that girls of this age need to work on,? said coach Janet Conrad. ?We run and work through problems.?

After spending some time in the classroom, the girls go outside and get to practice running laps. Conrad says one lap around the school is a third of a mile and once they complete one lap, they get a wristband to keep track of how many they have accomplished. She says the program is not all about running or competing, it?s about building healthy ways of thinking. ?It?s trying to get them to be confident in who they are and knowing that every girl has strengths and how to use those strengths to build themselves up,? she said.

The girls are not timed for their laps and they do not have to run them all. The self-motivated program is designed to help them create goals and accomplish them using running as the medium. They are encouraged to find a buddy and run with them, making the situation a team effort. After the 15th lesson, they run a practice 5k with a personal running buddy. The running buddy can be a parent, grandparent or friend over 16 years old. At the end of the 10-week program, the girls go to Cedar Rapids for a meet and all girls from Girls on the Run programs across southeast Iowa meet to run. Conrad says that last year there were over 500 runners and buddies. The program is funded by donations and sponsorships from the A.M. Optimist Club, WAYS, Washington County Enrichment Foundation, the Washington Lions Club and Noon Kawanis. The money goes toward creating scholarships for girls who cannot afford the program and for purchasing new shoes for girls who cannot afford them.

Conrad feels that introducing girls to something that everyone can do, like running, builds their confidence and gives them a new skill they can add to their list. ?It?s not a competition,? she says. ?That?s the last thing it is. It?s more about feeling successful and proving to the girls that they can overcome these challenges.?

April Cuddeback watched her daughters participate in Girls on the Run and got inspired to start Sole Sisters at the middle school. The program is open to girls in grades six to eight, although all their members are sixth-graders.

?In our middle school, in seventh and eighth grade, they can participate in school sports and the sixth-graders don?t have that option,? she said. To prevent a lost year after participating in Girls on the Run, Cuddeback borrowed material from the extension office and created her own program. The program works similarly to Girls on the Run, but they tackle more age-appropriate issues such as peer pressure, healthy eating and body image. They are sponsored by Anywhere Apparel in Mt. Pleasant. She said giving the girls the chance to try new things and set goals will help them in the future once they realize they can do anything they set their minds to. ?It?s giving them so many more skills and lifelong health lessons than they would be getting otherwise,? she said. ?It?s giving these kids a place to feel like they have a team. It?s a place for them to be included.?