October 25, 2013

Maine elementary school kids learn a good run is fun

Informal clubs are sprouting up across Maine to help young students get active.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Students at Sebago Elementary School get 15 minutes to do as many laps as they can around the circular driveway to build endurance.

Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer

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Additional Photos Below

Portland schools’ requirements don’t even reach that goal halfway: All elementary school children get 45 minutes of physical education a week. Deering High School offers 75 minutes a week for half of the year; Portland High requires 80 minutes a week for the entire year.

“I think everybody understands that it’s going to be hard to give every student 60 minutes every day,” said Boucher, who works with districts to connect them with resources to enhance their physical education programs. “Anything we can do to get kids moving is good.”

In addition to health benefits, many studies show exercise has academic benefits, he said. This week, a British study of 11-year-olds showed that the more active they were, the better they did on standardized tests of English, math and science.


At Sebago Elementary School, fifth-grade teacher Kimberly Kelly started a running club last year that includes more than half of the 83 students. She said the school bus driver jokes about how empty the bus is on days when the students go running.

Kelly said she started the club because a teacher got her hooked on running when she was just 8. “I realized what I had as a little girl could happen at my school, but there wasn’t a program,” said Kelly, 42.

She and a few other teachers started the club last spring with 25 runners. This year, 42 students come out twice a week to run around the school grounds and fields.

“The kids are enjoying it and they’re moving,” said Kelly. “They’re learning so much about their bodies.”

They’re also seeing improvement: One first-grader who couldn’t finish a single lap when she started can now run a full mile, Kelly said. Three students have run 5-kilometer races – and won medals. One 9-year-old student is running 5Ks in about 26 minutes.

Congin Elementary School in Westbrook used to have a walking club, in which students walked during recess and earned prizes and tracked their progress as a school. For some, it turned into a running club just because that’s how they chose to do it, said Andrea Stultz, a fourth-grade teacher.

“I loved it, I liked how it motivated the kids,” said Stultz, but the club ended when there was a change in guidance counselors. “These kids could stare at a screen all day, which is what I fear would happen if they didn’t have other interests.”

benefits beyond healthy exercise

Jennifer Cohen said her 9-year-old daughter, Anna, has become a dedicated runner since joining a lunchtime running club at Coastal Ridge Elementary School in York. The students run a mile, doing laps around a track and earning prizes and special events when they hit key goals.

“She’s totally gotten into running because of it,” Cohen said.

Anna ran 127 miles last year as a third-grader, getting a T-shirt at 50 miles and an ice cream party at 100 miles. “The fact is, my kid’s favorite thing to do is run around the track at lunch ... they love it,” Cohen said.

Running also gets her moving, even on the weekends, and has increased her stamina for soccer. She’s now confident enough to try out for new sports, Cohen said.

Dr. Joel Brenner, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, said running is a good starter sport because it requires only a pair of shoes and is something that families can do together. Several of the girls at the Dyer school said they started running with their parents, who are runners.

Running can also be empowering and help children set goals for themselves, said Sandi Sinclair, development and marketing coordinator for Girls on the Run in Maine. The program, which costs $129 per girl for the season, culminates with a fun run 5K.

“Seeing the looks on their faces, it’s awesome,” Sinclair said. “A lot of these girls have never run before, so the idea of completing a 5K seems so unattainable.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Sebago Elementary School kindergartener Audrey Dubay warms up with other kids before running on Monday.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Kathy Harmon leads a kids' running club started by Kimberly Kelly last year and continuing at the Sebago Elementary School.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer


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