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.”