When the recess bell rings every morning and afternoon, kindergartners to fifth graders at Ponderosa Elementary rush to the track.
“It is one recess, but it is a life changer,” said physical education teacher Jennifer Stoor.
Nearly 400 of the 600 students enrolled at the Meridian school participate in a run/walk program called Pacers. Every school day there are two 15-minute recesses when students choose to run or walk rather than play.
“This turns into a lifetime habit for these kids,” Stoor said. “This is a way to touch students lives for physical education.”
Stoor came to Ponderosa in 2002 when the school opened and created the program. Teachers have noticed a difference in students when then come back from recess — more focused and ready to learn.
“We have more engaged learners at our school,” Stoor said.
Every recess teachers and parents rotate to help the kids achieve miles. Students collect popsicle sticks for every quarter mile they complete and then teachers track the distance.
“We wouldn’t be able to run the program without the parents and teachers,” said Kathy Crowley, the principal at Ponderosa. “These kids are transformed not only physically, but emotionally and academically.”
The program cost some money for supplies and rewards. Funds are raised through the Parent Teacher Association. Parents, teachers and the community raised $35,000 this year to build a new track. The track is expected to be completed next spring.
“It shows what an incredible program we have,” Stoor said.
When Trace Freman was a kindergartner he would watch the older kids run around the track. Now a fifth grader, he has been participating in Pacers for six years. Already this year he has ran 50 miles and last year completed 277 miles.
“It is just fun and you get all the anger out of you when you run,” Freman said.
Students are encouraged by incentives for certain mileage, including paper shoes on the wall with their name, shoe tokens, free recess, YMCA field trip and drawings to win prizes. Last year, students ran a total of 44,138 miles.
“Students are running and walking for fun. Many friendships are developed on the track and its a great social outlet for these kids,” Stoor said.
Parent Holli Pollock who has a kindergartner and a third grader said everything revolves around Pacers at Ponderosa.
“It unites teachers and kids,” Pollack said. “It cuts down on bullying and I wish more schools would adopt it.”
If you have questions on how to start a Pacer program at your school, email Jennifer Stoor at [email protected].