By SUE SUCHYTA
ALLEN PARK – More than 100 Arno Elementary students are taking steps to establish healthy habits by circling their campus after school twice a week with their newly launched Walk Run Club.
Joined by staff and parents, students wear wristbands, which parent volunteers use to help students tally their laps walking and running during each half hour session encircling the school grounds.
The club, which began Oct. 8, meets after school from 3:45 to 4:15 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Principal Jennifer Sheldon spoke enthusiastically about the new after-school activity.
“With the rate of obesity being so high in children, we thought we should do something that inspires children,” Sheldon said. “We have a lot of runners and walkers in our school on our staff, so we wanted to incorporate the two things together. And the partnership between being a good role model with our staff and our students getting healthy, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
She said when the weather gets colder they plan to move the club indoors. Half the participants will do Zumba, which involves dance and aerobic elements, and aerobics for children, which involves fun and active play in the gym for 15 minutes, while others walk laps in the halls before switching.
“Michigan weather is not going to stop us,” Sheldon said.
She said she always checks the wind velocity, and if the temperatures are in the safe zone, they plan to bundle up children and let them go outside to get some fresh air.
They have health reports on all of the students, and take precautions as warranted so all students may participate.
Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Hool said the club is very popular with parents and students, including her own four children who attend Arno.
“The kids love it,” Hool said. “They look forward to it. The parents love to come, too, to see all the kids excited to run. And we are pushing health – running and being healthy.”
Fourth-grader Joshua Watkins, 9, of Allen Park, said he loves running every week, and seeing if he can meet distance goals he sets for himself. He said his ultimate goal is to run five miles during the half hour club meeting time. He hopes running will also help him when he plays basketball.
He said he tells his friends the club is a good source of exercise and a way to become healthier.
“It’s really cool with all the people joining the club,” Joshua said. “And then the more people that run more laps, the more that they are going to get exercise and get healthier.”
Fourth-grader Luke Markley, 9, of Allen Park, likes to walk, talk and run with friends during club time. He said his mother sometimes runs with him, and that he feels good at the end of the half hour.
“It’s really fun,” Luke said, “and it gets all your energy out at the end of the day.”
Running around the perimeter of the school is fun for fourth-grader Amelia Czajka, 9, of Allen Park. She said she sets lap goals for herself each week, and combines walking and running. She said her ultimate goal is to run two complete laps around the school.
“I kind of mixed it up a little bit,” Amelia said. “I ran, but if I got tired I would walk a little bit, but then I would run again.”
She said after three club meetings, she already feels like she has more endurance, and she has more energy when she goes home after walking and running.
Parent volunteer Christy Klos — whose sons Gerry, a second grader, and Ben, a kindergartener, attend Arno — marks laps on students’ wristbands each time they reach her. She said four times around the school is a mile. She said keeping track of their laps is exciting for the children.
Club co-sponsor and fourth-grade teacher Carrie Carpenter said a Literacy Walk a few years ago and a fun run fundraiser sponsored by the PTA in September created so much student excitement that the staff wanted to build off their enthusiasm and encourage them to continue healthy exercise habits.
She said the club is open to all the students in the building — from kindergarten through fifth grade and including a special education classroom. She said almost 20 percent of the student body is participating, and it seems students are gaining interest with each after-school session.
“It’s an extracurricular activity, which you don’t find a whole lot of them at the elementary level,” Carpenter said, “and I think they also just find it a little bit exhilarating to get out there and run around and move around because a lot of times they don’t have those opportunities.”
She said they have parents at each corner of the school grounds, as well as walking and running with the students, and checking each child in and out of the after-school activity.
She said the club and its safeguards would not be possible without parent volunteer support.
“We are being very safe about it, and covering all our grounds,” Carpenter said.
Club co-sponsor and special education teacher Katie Jensen said getting children and families involved in an activity together is one of the positive benefits the Walk Run Club has accomplished.
“It was an after-school thing to get more and all kids at the same time together,” Jensen said. “We have had over a hundred participants, which exceeded our expectations way over, getting fit and having fun while doing so and with friends and family.”
She said some of the older students compete among themselves to see who can complete the most laps, which she said is fun to hear.
Second-grade teacher Nicole Amonette said it is good way to get the students physically active and it is fun to interact with her students outside of school.
“I think it is a great program to get them out and moving,” Amonette said. “They enjoy it, they are out with their friends, they are doing something fun and they are finding that running and walking can be fun – exercise can be fun – so it’s great – lifelong habits that are greatly needed.”