Learning to run
Ms. Lepage has two rules at running club: be safe and have fun.
As the students run around the schoolyard playing clothespin tag, they can’t help but have fun. They’re just worrying about not getting caught — the fact that they’re also learning how to run is secondary.
The students hardly stop moving for the first half hour of the running club. There’s one game after another to keep their feet moving and their hearts pumping.
While they’re running around and just being kids, they’re also building endurance, strength, and, most importantly, confidence.
“Running is an area where kids can be successful,” Terri-Lynn Lepage said. “They don’t need to be athletes, they don’t need to have fancy equipment. They can just come with their inside shoes that they had anyway, and they can be successful.”
Two years ago, the Grade 3 teacher issued a challenge to the students of St. David Catholic Elementary School. She challenged them to become runners. The students were eager to accept.
“The response has been unbelievable,” Lepage said. “After school, we have about 20 kids, and when we do it at lunch time, it’s 30 and 40 kids.”
Twice a week, the group, called the St. David Roaring Runners — an homage to the school’s mascot, the dragon — can be seen and heard playing co-operative games in the schoolyard, running around the block and cheering each other on.
The children range in age from Grade 2 to 5. Lepage said any younger, there is a concern for the students’ safety while running on the street, and any older, the games aren’t so “cool” anymore.
From age seven to 10, “they’re very impressionable, it’s still fun. Running is cool. In terms of intervention, the younger you can get involved, the better chance they have.”
Intervention is as key to the program as exercise and education.
“In terms of exercise, lots of them won’t be in organized sports because it’s too expensive or they don’t have transportation,” Lepage said. “This way … they have their snack, they have done some physical activity and parents just need to walk here and pick them up.”
The Roaring Runners have run in two one-kilometre fun runs each year — Sudbury Rocks in May and the Santa Shuffle in
“I can’t describe how great it feels to listen to them talk about racing with each other,” Lepage said. “They wear their medals for weeks after their race, or sometimes they will win a running T-shirt and that’s the T-shirt they will wear for three days in a row because they’re so proud.”
Grade 3 student Amelia Carter-Jeanveau has been part of the running club since it started. She said she joined simply “because I like to run.”
“I’m getting faster,” she said. “And I’m learning how to be with a group more, learning how to co-operate more.”
She has also learned a bit of strategy when it comes to racing.
“Don’t always start off running as fast as you can because then you lose all your energy when you really need to get there first.”
Running Sudbury Rocks last year was a special highlight for Amelia.
“It was really exciting for me because my grandpa has diabetes and I ran for diabetes and he came to it with me and he keeps my medal at his house,” she said. “He watched me and cheered me on.”
Fellow Grade 3 student Chase MacDonald just started with the running club this year. He said he joined “because I get some more exercise. (Running) is my favourite thing. It helps me. I run faster in soccer.”
Through the running club, Chase has realized he’s “pretty fast.”
“Sometimes we race when we go around the block with running club in the summer. I win sometimes.”
Fuelling young minds
There’s more to the running club than exercise. After each practice, Lepage takes time to teach the kids about healthy eating by providing a nutritious snack. In winter, when running outside is not an option, the teacher invites the group into the school’s kitchen for cooking club.
“They have no idea about a measuring cup, a tablespoon, how you measure flour. Some of them didn’t know what an avocado was, or a pineapple or a red pepper. It was amazing to me the vegetables they couldn’t identify because they always eat the same things at home.”
Lepage said parents think they are sending a healthy lunch for their children, “and some of them do a really good job, but some of them are really misguided.”
“If I can get (the kids) to go home with a recipe that’s easy, with ingredients that are inexpensive, well, then maybe, if it’s coming from their kid, (the parents) will want to do it moreso than if I just say ‘you should make this’ or ‘don’t send that.’”
Cooking is another area of pride for the students.
“They’ll say ‘Look! I’ve made something at cooking club and I’m bringing it home to you,’” Lepage said.
Amelia said she’s learned “that you should always wash your hands before starting and how to make a few things.”
In Ms. Lepage’s class, Amelia has also learned about composting and recycling. She said Ms. Lepage is “a good teacher.”
“She tries to get us to eat more healthier than we are so we can be more smart.”
Sharing some words
Midway through the running club season last year, Lepage introduced another element into the mix. After spending time outside developing the young runners and feeding them a nutritious snack, students take a few moments to write in their personal running journals.
“We track how you felt really awful at the beginning, but the more you practise, the more you exercise, you start to feel better,” Lepage said.
The teacher has support from community volunteers, as well. The volunteers join the students running, help them write in their journals, and afterward, listen to them read a book of their choosing.
“Their buddy’s job isn’t to sit there and correct their reading, it’s to encourage them and listen to their stories and help them,” Lepage said. “It’s a grownup who has all the time in the world to listen to them.”
All in all, Lepage is developing well-rounded young students.
“Some of it’s about running and some of it is just that I want it to be their time to shine.”