Tuesday, October 12, 2010
INDEPENDENCE -- After four quick laps around the walking track at Independence Elementary School's playground during recess, Eddie Bruning huffs and puffs as he trots across the finish line one last time.
Bruning then interlaces his fingers, places his hands behind his head, and exhales deeply.
"I try to keep a gentle pace," the 10-year-old says, wiping his brow. "On the last one, I run my fastest so I can just get it over with."
About a dozen other children follow suit on the track. Meg Greiner, an IES physical education teacher, cautions a few ambitious sprinters to slow down.
"The concept of pacing doesn't come easy," Greiner notes. "It's kid nature to run hard."
Not that it's bothering her. The kids are exercising and happy, after all.
As a way to fill the void left by deep cuts to the school's PE program last year, IES created a walking -- or running -- club this fall for children during recess.
The premise is simple. Run 21 laps -- the equivalent of three miles -- and get a token. Three tokens will net you a key chain that have become popular decorations for backpacks.
David Avila, a fifth-grader, has logged nine miles since the running club started.
"I run, maybe, five laps a day," he said.
The club is voluntary, but many students seem to opt for running laps during recess instead of playing kickball or chatting, Greiner said.
"We're trying to encourage them to make good choices and get some physical activity," said Principal Steve Tillery.
IES, and other elementary schools in Central School District, saw PE classtime shrink dramatically because of state funding cuts in 2009. Two teachers now split their time between four schools.
Instead of 90 minutes of gym activity per week, children now get half an hour. To supplement that lost time, IES staff decided to put a walking track donated to the school last spring to good use.
"Every child needs about two hours of activity a day," Greiner said. "That's difficult when you don't have access to resources you need."
Greiner opined that young kids have become so accustomed to sitting in front of a television or video game at home, it's a challenge coaxing them to run around.
The running club, which staff and volunteer parents monitor during recess, has proven popular -- sometimes, more than the playground equipment.
Sheri Vineyard, a parent of two and volunteer at the school, said she feels schools need PE five days a week.
"At least with this, it gets them moving around and having fun," she said.
Bruning, a fourth-grader, said he thinks the club makes recess more fun.
"I've gone maybe 12 or 13 miles," he said. "My goal is to run a marathon."