Students Step It Up

Meghan Myers at Bower Hill Elementary School spearheaded a walking program that quickly grew into a marathon challenge: teachers and their students would attempt to walk a marathon over the course of the year, building up to participation in the final mile at the Pittsburgh Kids Marathon.

Joining Let’s Move! Active Schools

When state tests rolled around last year, second-grade teacher Meghan Myers at Bower Hill Elementary School in Venetia, Pennsylvania saw an opportunity for action.

“We needed breaks where our kids could get up, get moving, and then get back to business,” she said.

With two other teachers, Myers started a walking program that quickly grew into a marathon challenge: teachers and their students would try and walk a marathon over the course of the year, building up to participation in the final mile at the Pittsburgh Kids Marathon as part of the Kids of STEEL program.

The positive response Myers and her colleagues received, coupled with an acceleration grant from Just Move!, inspired Myers to build on physical activity and wellness programming during the following year.

“[Kids of STEEL] pushed us to do more because we saw so many kids were interested in that.”

She found Let’s Move! Active Schools at a conference, and decided to sign up.

“It seemed like something that would fit with what we were already doing and would also help us to [sustain] it. It balanced both the nutrition part and the physical activity part with things we could do as a school, or things we could do in our own classroom.

Becoming More Active

Motivated by the success of the previous year, Myers decided to bolster the marathon program the following school year. To increase participation, Myers and her colleagues started the program earlier and encouraged classroom teachers to take walking breaks.

“They took mini breaks and they’d walk a lap inside or outside the building,” she explained. “We measured it, so we knew how many laps were in a mile, and we kept track of those miles.”

In addition to walking breaks to prepare students for the Pittsburgh Kids Marathon, other physical activity breaks are gradually becoming classroom staples and have provided opportunities for teachers to build their own classroom traditions. Each class participates in different activities depending on grade level, interests, and time. To inspire teachers and encourage variety, Myers provided each classroom with a set of fitness cards for “brain breaks” throughout the day.

Through a grant from Child Obesity 180’s After School Acceleration Project, Myers received a set of exercise moves for teachers, grouped by grade level and suggestions for curriculum integration. Myers decided to personalize the cards and make them more fun to use by including photos of Bower Hill teachers on each card.  Each classroom has its own set of personalized cards.   

Myer’s secret for convincing teachers to participate? “Teachers are allowed to wear comfy clothes on their exercise days, so they definitely like that.”

Moving More Means…

This year, more than 70 students signed up to walk or run 25 miles in preparation to run the final mile at the Pittsburgh Kids Marathon, and several classrooms will complete the challenge together.  Though individual students can include the miles they run in gym class among their total miles logged, many classrooms aim to have walked a marathon as a class by the end of the school year.

Words to Move By

  • Myers encourages other schools to get staff buy-in: “We started most of these ideas with just me and one other teacher, and it’s reaching our school of 750 kids! The kids will do what we model for them, she said.”
  • Keep staff interested. Give them different options so if one thing doesn’t work for one teacher, he or she can try something else.

Building Parent Support

Working with parents to encourage healthy habits at home requires some finesse. “I would say one of the big challenges was letting parents know that this isn’t something that we’re forcing their kids to do,” said Myers.

“Of course everybody wants to be healthier, but you don’t want it to seem like they have to do these things.  We try and give them options. So we’re voicing to the kids that it’s okay if they’re not able to participate and also to the parents that we’re not trying to make decisions for them—we’re just trying to give suggestions of what they could do at home.”

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