Salina Students Hit the Ground Running

In just one year, the number of marathon runners in Salina, Kan. tremendously increased. As a part of the Greater Salina Community Foundation’s School Marathon Initiative, more than 1,700 children from seven elementary schools ran or walked a marathon in September and October. When school started, kids literally hit the ground running!

Research abounds regarding the problems associated with childhood obesity and lack of exercise for the current video game generation. Research also shows students have significantly more brain activity and better academic performance when they have been physically active. A school marathon provides a structure for students to run or walk distances that add up to 26.2 miles over a period of about five weeks. Modifications are made for students with special needs to ensure everyone has an opportunity to be successful. Last fall, students received incentives for every five miles they completed. Parents, teachers, and community volunteers helped to track and coordinate the events.

The program required buy-in from all physical education teachers, who incorporated at least five miles of the marathons into class curriculum, ensuring all students would participate to some extent. The balance of the miles came either before school or at recess. Each participating school was allowed to design its own marathon program. The foundation offered mentoring and volunteer support in addition to the funding. Incentive grants were awarded for schools that had at least 75 percent of students complete the marathon. Those schools received $500 bonus grants to purchase physical education or playground equipment.

Each school held a celebration at the completion of their marathon, where students received T-shirts and medals. In addition, more than 500 students attended an event held the day before Thanksgiving in their respective communities. Teachers and key marathon liaisons from each school were treated to a cocktail party in early November as both a thank you and a forum to solicit feedback on the program.

The School Marathon Grants were noncompetitive and offered to all 10 Salina elementary schools. The Greater Salina Community Foundation administered the project and funded it in partnership with a grant from the Wichita-based Kansas Health Foundation’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, and an additional grant from the local Salina Regional Health Foundation. Seven elementary schools participated in 2011, the first year of the program. In 2012, we anticipate all 10 elementary schools (eight public and two private) will participate.

As a part of the grant, the schools tracked participation of not only students but also the more than 300 staff members, parents, and siblings that took part in the marathons. Schools are also tracking academic performance, office referrals, tardies, fitness targets, and absences. The foundation will graph these indicators during and after the marathons for a minimum of three years.
This spring, the foundation is following up the fall marathons with mini-marathon grants that coincide with the schedule for state assessment tests. Schools can design a plan to get students moving and provide a healthy snack on test days.

For more information:
Betsy Wearing, president, Greater Salina Community Foundation
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