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Running toward success
Teri Jones and Missy Ashby don't worry that students in their after-school club at Clippard Elementary School will leave them far behind.
Jones and Ashby, who are marathon runners in their spare time, can keep up with their energetic third- and fourth-graders.
Jones, a fourth-grade teacher, and Ashby, a literacy coach, started the Marathon Kids Club three years ago to encourage children to exercise, read books and do good deeds for others.
On Wednesday, the two educators received an award and a $2,000 check from SuccessLink, a not-for-profit organization in Jefferson City, Mo., that singles out innovative education programs and projects.
The money will be used in the operation of the after-school club, SuccessLink assistant director Michael Flynn said at a school assembly of third- and fourth-graders. The Marathon Kids program is one of three programs in the state selected as a 2007 "proven practice," Flynn said.
The program has already been copied in other school districts from Jackson to Carbondale, Ill. Flynn said he hopes other schools will follow suit.
"Proven practice" programs are chosen carefully, Flynn said. A program or project must be at least two years old to apply for the recognition. Educators must submit extensive applications to be considered for the award, he said.
"This after-school program is most unique," Flynn said, noting that it stresses running, reading and helping others.
Jones said she was inspired to set up the program after learning of a similar type of children's project in St. Louis that incorporated running and reading.
She enlisted the aid of Ashby, and the two women created the Marathon Kids Club in September 2004.
The after-school club has had a membership of about 60 third- and fourth-graders each year since its creation, Jones said.
The students meet each Wednesday after school in the Clippard gym and eat a healthy snack while learning about the importance of exercise, good nutrition and healthy lifestyles. The students, Jones and Ashby then do stretching exercises before running a mile on the city's recreation trail near the school. On rainy days, they run laps in the school gym.
Jones said the club has even sparked interest from some parents who regularly run with the children Wednesday afternoons.
Students keep a log of the books they have read and their good deeds. Parents and teachers sign the log book to verify that the students have completed the books and charitable tasks.
By the end of the school year, the students are expected to have read 26 books, done 26 good deeds and run 26.2 miles.
Wednesday was supposed to be the final run for club members, but rain kept the students from running the final 1.2 miles. "We can't control the weather as much as we would like to," principal Sydney Herbst told the students gathered in the gym for a school assembly to celebrate the club's success.
Herbst said the final run has been rescheduled for Monday at 1 p.m.
The students will receive medals and club T-shirts at the conclusion of their final run, Jones and Ashby said. The club's activities give students a sense of accomplishment, they said.
Ashby said the children become more physically fit over the course of the school year. "The very first time we go out, some of the kids have never run that far in their life," she said. The students work together as a team, cheering each other on, Ashby said. "They are kind of a tight-knit group."
Fourth-grader Matthew Gutwein said he likes the club. "I like running," he said following Wednesday's school assembly.
Fourth-grader Madison Daum said her "good deeds" included helping two first-graders. "I helped a boy and girl read," she said. Daum said she also helped clean up the school grounds.
Third-grader Shelby Powers said the club helps encourage students to read. She likes the "good deeds" requirement, too. "It makes me feel good to help others," she said.
The club activities have a proven record of success, Ashby and Jones said.
Prior to creation of the club, four students received national fitness awards and two students received the presidential fitness awards.
Eight students received the national physical fitness awards and two received the presidential award in each of the past two years. Four physical fitness records were broken, one of which was the mile run for third-grade boys, Jones said.
In addition, students' average scores on a questionnaire about physical fitness and nutrition rose from 73 percent to 83 percent.
Jones and Ashby said the number of discipline referrals for Marathon Kids Club participants has dropped over the last three years from 29 in 2004-2005 to six in the current school year.
Reading scores also have improved, the club's coaches said.
The club, they said, has fostered partnerships with parents and others in the community. Prior to establishment of the club, Clippard School had no after-school activities that involved parents or community members, Jones and Ashby said.
Ashby and Jones said the students have embraced the club's goals. Ashby said, "Really, the kids are remarkable."
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