Thousands of elementary students in Central Texas have started a five-month mission to run a marathon – although not all at once.
It’s part of the annual program Marathon Kids. Over the weekend, students gathered on the University of Texas campus to log the first of many laps between now and February.
When Marathon Kids started more than 15 years ago, 2,000 Austin students joined. This year, more than 30,000 Austin ISD students are participating, not including students from nearby districts and private schools. Kids keep track of their runs until they add up to an entire marathon.
The goal is to improve the students' health and encourage physical activity, as well as foster a sense of accomplishment once they’ve finished. The program has also introduced running to kids who go on to join track teams as they get older, says Michele Rusnak, an AISD physical education supervisor.
In Texas, students must get 135 minutes of physical activity per week. In Austin, some of that responsibility is put on teachers, who must incorporate physical activity into daily instruction. At Woolridge Elementary in North Austin, teachers use Marathon Kids to help students meet the physical activity requirement.
“They spend one of days in the rotation going around the track and tracking miles with the class. Then they color them in on their Marathon Kids form," says gym teacher Becca Lambdin-Abraham.
Lambdin-Abraham says elementary students bring the lessons they learn home, which AISD's Michele Rusnak says is the goal of Marathon Kids, too.
“It’s truly that coordinated health school effort that we’re looking at where we can get families and kids and schools involved," Rusnak says.
Reyes Perez has two sons who attend Clayton Elementary. He and his wife – who is a marathon runner – participate in Marathon Kids as a family. He says nowadays, it’s tough to motivate kids to be healthy.
“Most kids, they tend to move toward junk foods that aren’t great for them and getting them to eat right and exercise … it’s very difficult," he says.
The Marathon Kids program ends in February, when students will gather at the Burger Activity Center for a final run.