Running in circles? Students reap the benefits
Miles to go before they sleep, literally. For students at Northstar Elementary School in the Knoxville Community School District, it’s all about participating in the Northstar Mileage Club. The club began last spring as a way to get kids moving at recess and encourage a lifelong love of running and walking. It turns out the club’s benefits reach far beyond just the school grounds during recess.
Piloted with 4th graders, but now including 3rd through 5th graders, participation is optional and focuses on accumulated miles. The students decide how they wish to move about the designated, outdoor course. Many choose to run, others walk alone in meditative silence. Some walk together in pairs, others stroll socializing in groups, and some are a virtual blur as they sprint nonstop for the duration. Inspired to hop, skip, or jump in piles of leaves along the way? Go for it! Just keep moving, all the while racking up a personal tally of total miles completed.
Whatever the method of movement, all students can participate, and all benefit from physical activity experienced outside in the fresh air. Students participate during morning, lunch, or afternoon recess, and sometimes as part of physical education class.
Participants retain control over their pace and whether to participate on their own or in groups. The club helps teach students goal setting as students challenge themselves and their friends to excel and increase their mileage. It’s easy for students to keep track of their individual progress and watch their mileage grow over time by using an iPad to scan the barcode on their slap-bracelet wristband after completing a lap.
Since Mileage Club’s implementation, not only are students more active and engaged in many other games and activities at recess, but typical playground altercations are reduced, as an easily supervised, organized activity replaces arguments, hurt feelings, and playground accidents.
Beyond improved physical strength and stamina for students in an era where childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, other benefits abound for children in Northstar’s Mileage Club. School staff have noticed increased student attention and focus following lunch recess. Overall focus and calm, and increased learning readiness are a few of the natural byproducts of such student-managed, regular, healthy exercise.
The Knoxville Parent Teacher Organization provided financial support to get the program started, and this year, funds from a $500 Team Nutrition 5-2-1-0 grant helped support the Northstar Mileage Club’s kickoff event by enabling the purchase of water coolers, wristbands, directional signage and cones for the course.
The school has also incorporated Positive Behavior Intervention Supports into the program, whereby students can earn Panther Tickets for miles logged to purchase rewards from the school mascot-themed Panther Store. Ten miles equals ten Panther Tickets, and most reward purchases are privilege-centered experiences. Rewards range from buying the whole class extra recess, to sitting in a teacher’s chair, to going to the front of the lunch line, to walking with staff to deliver end-of-the-day notes to classrooms, to eating lunch with the principal or Teacher of the Week.
And what of those intangible, intrinsic rewards that are automatically reinforced when young people experience the satisfaction of personal accomplishment and growth? Those rewards that cost nothing, are available to all, and last for a lifetime? The students at Northstar Elementary in Knoxville think those are reason enough to keep going around in circles.