What began with a teacher’s idea to get students more physically active has blossomed into a source of pride for Frank Layden Elementary School in Frontenac, Kansas.
Teacher Caroline Capehart grew up in Frontenac, a town built by immigrants and coal miners in the late 1800s, and graduated from Frontenac High School in 1996. Although considered a small town at 3,437 residents, Frontenac is the second largest town in Crawford County.
Our county ranks 92nd out of 101 counties in terms of health risks, with 36 percent of adult residents considered obese and 45 percent report no leisure time physical activity. Capehart, once a cheerleader who began running as a youth and now physically active as an adult, aimed to set about lowering those health risks for the kids that she and her colleagues teach.
Principal Courtney McCartney said she was inspiring them to begin a lifelong habit of fitness.
It was while running one of several marathons in Missoula, Montana, that Capehart herself was inspired.
“I had the idea to start our students on a running program that would allow them to run a marathon, or even just a 5K or 10K to start smaller, but to do it in increments over a period of time,” she said.
Last summer, Capehart applied for the Healthy Habits for Life grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. She asked McCartney for permission to use the school gymnasium before school, and the program, Raider Runners, was underway.
She was overwhelmed with the number of students who jumped on board: Hoping to have 50 sign up, she got more than 150 of them from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Each Tuesday and Thursday, they can choose to show up to school 20 minutes early and begin laps in the gym.
Capehart enlisted the help of several other elementary teachers to keep track of their progress; they sit in the bleachers and using a Google spreadsheet that she set up, keep tally marks for all names by grade level.
“Eight laps is roughly the equivalent of a mile,” Capehart said, “and kindergarteners through second graders average about 10 laps each morning. Third through fifth graders average about 12.”
Last month, Capehart recognized milestone moments in a special all-school assembly in the gym: She awarded the first incentives to 120 students who reached the 5K and to 98 of them who reached the half-marathon (13.1 miles) mark just prior to the Christmas break.
“We have shoelaces charms for you today,” she told them before announcing the names of the recipients. “They slide on your shoelaces, and then whenever you wear your shoes, it reminds you of how far you’ve come, and it shows other people how far you’ve come, too.”
Costs for the incentives are offset by a $500 donation by Jane Hutsey Insurance & Investments and a $100 donation by Dr. Rob Herron, DDS.
At the end of the Spring semester, Capehart will hold another assembly and award charms and t-shirts to those who have completed marathons.
Capehart, meanwhile, is looking forward to April: She qualified to run the Boston Marathon.
“Running can be a lifelong thing,” she said. “It has been for me so far, and I’m hoping it can be for some of these kids.”
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