PAHOA – Young owls are learning to be distance runners. At least that’s the hoot coming from a group of youngsters at Keonepoko Elementary School, home of the Pueo, who have spent a year racking up the miles.
One of the ways being used to motivate youngsters nationwide in elementary classrooms is through an innovative program started by the New York Road Runners Foundation.
“The program comes from marathon runners who believe that children can learn motivation through a yearlong running program in school,” Keonepoko Elementary teacher Zennie Sawyer said.
Sawyer applied for, and received a grant, from the NYCRR Foundation to start a ‘Mighty Miler’ program three years ago which have paid big dividends for her schools participants.
“Initially, this year, we started with 293 kids who voluntarily came out for the running program,” Sawyer said. “The goal for each student was to run a marathon by the end of the year with quarterly goals of five to ten miles by the end of the first quarter and 10 to 15 miles by the end of the second quarter and so on.”
Children from grades three to six voluntarily give up a portion of their recess to run laps around a designated area on the Keonepoko Campus and each child’s progress is logged on a daily basis. Other opportunities were provided during the day by running laps in the morning, after school and as part of PE class.
Keonepoko, which services children from Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaiian Shores, Ainaloa, Orchidland and Paradise Park subdivisions, was looking for ways to keep their students healthy and fit and Sawyer says the Mighty Miler program is a great venue.
“It wasn’t easy during our first year of the program and by the end of the third year the program trimmed itself to the current 196 students who were committed to the goals set,” Sawyer said. “We needed to maintain the integrity of the program as well as meet the guidelines set up by the NYRR Foundation.”
Sawyer, who is the physical education teacher at the school, also credits success to participation in the Parks and Recreation track program which helped to meet the running goals during the months of track training from October to March.
“Our track team was a good catalyst to others once they saw the amount of medals coming in,” Sawyer said.
Each student is awarded a medal for every 26 miles (the distance of a marathon) logged in during the school year.
“What thrills me is that now runners, who were not even a part of the track program, are receiving their medals,” she said. “And what brings even more satisfaction to me is when I see classmates genuinely excited for someone else receiving a Might Miler shirt or medal – giving high-fives, applauding, hooting and yelling, and I don’t even have to ask them to.”
Fifth grader, Matthew Ugrin, was the first to receive a marathon medal just before the end of the first quarter and he was never part of the P&R track program.
“I joined the program because I want to get healthy,” Ugrin said. “I’ve been doing Mighty Milers since third grade and I will run at home with my older brother.”
“Matthew accomplished everything on his own time and steam,” Sawyer said. “I made various opportunities for all our runners during recess, before school, and after school. Matthew was and still is always there logging up laps.”
Ugrin recently received his second medal for his hard work and dedication.
Fourth grader, Lupe Rodriguez, who was on the track team went above and beyond the minimal requirements and has accumulated four medals, logging 132 miles to date and still counting.
“It’s fun to run,” Rodriguez said. “I ran on the track team and in P.E. class as I want to improve my stamina.”
Sawyer believes that third grader, Dylan Aguinaldo, lost the most weight during the year and showed the most improvement.
“While we did not take a weight at the beginning, Dylan’s weight loss and improvement in his endurance is evident,” she said. “He was part of our track program and in the beginning he could not even finish a lap, but with self-persistence, and encouragement from his teammates he was able to run on a relay team and successfully finish the track season.”
“I lost between 30 and 35 pounds from running,” Aguinaldo said. “I like to exercise and its fun to meet lots of new people from other schools. I would still like to lose more weight.”
Third grader, Anela Kaneshiro, was all smiles at the Mighty Miler award ceremony.
“I won three medals,” Kaneshiro said with a grin. “I ran almost ever recess as I know that it is healthy for me.”
For all their hard work and the growing pains over the last three years, the Keonepoko Mighty Miler Program has reached and even surpassed the goals set for this year.
“A goal of 5,136 miles was established for our 196 kids for this school year,” Sawyer said. “As of this week we have reached 6,436 miles and the laps are still coming in and the medals being given out!”
Sawyer’s group of harriers have thus far accumulated 89 first medals, 35 second medals, 5 third medals and two students have received four medals bring the total number of children receiving medals to 131.
“We’re still working on getting more medals as the year is almost over,” Sawyer said. “Students who are so close are running to meet those last few miles and we’re still adding to those 6,000 miles.”