It is said that some people come into our lives and quickly go while some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts.
This past Wednesday, at Keaau Elementary School, students and teachers alike were introduced to how footprints can be so powerful that they change our lives forever.
At the start of 2012 the faculty, staff and students of KES lost their longtime SASA, Jayson Correa, to cancer.
“Mr. Correa was at the school for about 20 years,” Teacher Maile Bellosi said. “He struggled with his disease privately and painfully for the last several years.”
His death was devastating for the staff members of the school, many of whom had worked with him for over 15 years.
“As our SASA (school administrative services assistant) he was an integral part of our school’s functionality,” Bellosi said. “He was the guy we had to rely on for everything important.”
To commemorate Jayson Correa’s legacy at Keaau Elementary the faculty, students and staff were collecting donations for the American Cancer Society through a variety of activities such as Relay Recess and other on campus activities.
Correa’s parents and other relatives were in attendance and his nephew; Nathanuel Chow-Guzman, a 4th grader, single handedly raised the most money for the Cancer Society.
“I collected $331 in Uncle’s memory,” Chow-Guzman said. “I was very sad when uncle died and today we are doing different things to remember him. I did a one mile run and thought about him the entire way.”
Everywhere on the KES campus that I looked, on every classroom door, there were cut out footprints with names on them.
“The students, staff and families were all given footprint cutouts on which a name of a loved one who is battling, has beaten, or has succumbed to cancer, is written,” Bellosi explained. “These feet were put up on all the bulletin boards around campus to help students understand that cancer is an ‘equalizer,’ something we all have dealt/deal with in our families.
The day that I was on campus was the culmination of health and wellness lessons that went from March 19 to April 10 in which teachers provided a large set of health and wellness lessons with the idea of conveying a message that lifestyle choices can help lessen the likelihood of cancer and other diseases afflicting them.
The last day of the lesson was called ‘Kukini no ke Ola’ or Run for Life/Messengers for Life.
“We know we can reach our families and the extended community through the education of their children,” Bellosi said.
Through collaborative effort students from Kamehameha and Keaau High along with community organizations from Hilo Medical Center, Bay Clinic and the American Red Cross a health fair was organized with a variety of learning activities.
“Students rotated through the health fair over a 45 minute period,” Bellosi said. “We want them to see the value of a healthy, drug free lifestyle and hopefully leave a footprint in their lives by doing so.”
After the Health Fair Bellosi and her colleagues lead the students on a one mile run around campus.
“The run is free,” Bellosi said. “I got Road ID to donate 900 running numbers and we borrowed a timing clock from the Athletic Department at Kamehameha Schools.
Bellosi measured out a course in three rounds for all kids, pre-kindergarten, through 5th grade plus all the staff.
The cafeteria staff provided fresh fruit at the conclusion and a DJ was on hand, donating his time and expertise, to pump up the participants on the course and around the finish line area.
“My mom has a rare cancer and needed surgery three times,” said 5th grader Maya Rosof.
Rosof didn’t know the name of her mother’s cancer but pointed to the location which is in the neck under her right ear.
“It was definitely scary and I was freaking out when I heard the news.” she said. “My mom had to go to a hospital in San Francisco and I was really afraid.”
Rosof also spoke of all the things she was learning that day which included trying to stay healthy and fit by running or walking and eating the right foods.
“I am worried about cancer and how it might affect me someday,” Rosof said. “But I want to learn more and be able to help others with cancer someday.”
I was impressed with the more than 800 students in red shirts and nearly 100 staff members that participated in the one mile run/walk event.
Everyone connected to the KES family was out and moving in a variety of activities from Zumba, to soccer drills, balancing games and more, much, much, more.
“Everything we have used today was donated by community groups or individuals,” Bellosi said. “Our donations came from the public and from friends and family as well as from our coordinating staff made up of Iwalani Harris, Elaine Lu, Keone Farias and myself.”
On a bulletin board outside of Bellosi’s office was a footprint with the name of her sister.
“I watched my sister battle through Stage 4 kidney cancer and she has run the Honolulu Marathon twice since,” Bellosi said. “God Bless all those battling cancer.”
And someday should you happen to see a slow moving jogger refusing to stop exercising while battling cancer remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
As a retired public school with over 30 years in the classroom I know the impact we have over young, developing minds. Next to parents, teachers have the ability to leave long lasting footprints in the hearts of those they touch.
Television news correspondent Dan Rather said, “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.”
In this day of large scale obesity amongst our youth with too much time spent sitting in front of a screen it’s wonderful to see teachers taking the time to reinforce to their students the need for physical exercise.
Two years ago, at Keaau Elementary School, fifth grade teachers began a commitment to their students to have them become members of the New York Road Runners Club Mighty Milers program.
The NYRRC Might Miles program promotes regular running in which students are provide an online database for logging their miles as well as incentives when benchmark distances are attained.
“Our entire Fifth Grade participates, roughly 110 students,” KES teacher Maile Bellosi said. “It is especially poignant in light of the prospective budget cuts proposed at the Middle School level in dropping the track program.”
Bellosi was the teacher who instigated the NYRRC Might Milers program when she first joined the staff at KES.
“It has really been a joint effort of the five homeroom teachers to encourage physical fitness and health while enjoying the social atmosphere of group exercise,” she said.
The fees associated with gaining membership into the Might Milers were waived due to KES being a Title One School. Students run laps on a measured course at least once per week. They then graph their personal times in some classes and are encouraged to better their own personal times through “modifications in strategies.”
“Classes earn group reward for hitting 500 and 1,000 miles and individual students receive quality medals for each marathon they run,” Bellosi said.
According to Bellosi there are several students that will be surpassing the 100 mile mark for the year and will earn their fourth marathon medal. (A marathon distance is 26.2 miles.)
The KES Fifth Grade class goal was to reach a combined distance of 5,000 miles during the school year and for good reason.
“We set our goal as a grade level to run a cumulative distance of 5,000 miles to virtually run to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.,” Bellosi said. “We will definitely make that goal before the end of the year and to celebrate we’re heading to Kilauea Iki to hike across the crater together.”
(KES reached the goal of 5,000 miles sooner than Bellosi originally thought as Big Dog was on hand to witness the special occasion this past Wednesday.)
Bellosi and her team of fifth grade teachers also practice what they preach as they are physically fit and trim. Teachers include Ryan Ideta, who coaches tennis full time after school, April Baptiste, who dances in a halau and will compete at Merrie Monarch, David Alipio, who competes in surf and paddleboard contest, and more.
Bellosi herself comes from a running family of ten brothers and sisters that combined have run more than 150 marathons.
“I come from a running family from Oahu,” she said. “As we grew up we all started competing in races as we traveled all over the state to run the various island marathons.”
Bellosi’s father is a physician at Tripler Army Medical Center on Oahu and he always preached the benefits of running. Besides regular fitness runs Bellosi and the KES staff teach the value of a healthy diet to their students.
“The snacks at our weekly meetings usually consist of nuts, low fat popcorn, and wheat crackers,” Bellosi said. “We support and encourage the students to eat well in order to support their fitness gains from running.”
The students are given fresh fruits and vegetables in both school provided meals and they receive a bonus afternoon snack of fruit once per week through a grant received by the school.
“Eighty percent of our students are receiving free or reduced cost meals,” Bellosi said. “Through Achieve 3000, an online reading program we are using, students are assigned many pertinent stories about health and wellness to further educate them about the foods they eat and the lifestyle choices they make.”
Keaau Elementary School is also very fortunate in having a principal, Keone Farias, that is also a runner and supports program being promoted at the fifth grade level. Farias will come out to watch the kids run and he participates in the medal ceremonies.
“This program is a wonderful opportunity for our kids,” Farias said. “The running program promotes a healthy lifestyle for our kids which helps them focus on learning. I just wish we could do more.”
There is no better way to learn than by actually doing. And when you have good role models surrounding you and helping you along, odds are that these simple gifts of knowledge will be carried on throughout their lives.
“For many of our students running is a sport that they can do, physically, financially, and in the environment they are being raised,” Bellosi said. “It requires so little by way of prep, materials, or equipment.”