SUGAR CITY — First-grader Talon Anderson ran 100 miles during recess at school last year.
He hopes to double that this year
“I like to run,” he said. “I do it so I can get better.”
Over the past two years, hundreds of students have participated in Central Elementary School’s “pacer” program, which teachers started in 2012 as part of a nationwide push to promote health among students across the country.
Like most of the kids at his school, Talon spends half his recess running around a track next to the playground. To encourage participation, teachers keep track of students’ times and incentivize them with a variety of prizes, from pizza parties at school to free running shoes donated by the local bike shop.
Teachers say the student body is much healthier as a result of the program. They also say all the running translates to better performance in the classroom.
“When I started this program four years ago, most of the teachers told me, ‘Go ahead and do it — we don’t really care,'” said Central Elementary physical education teacher Connie Dunn. “Now teachers tell me all the time that their students focus better in class after running pacers.”
The CDC reports that the percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. Similarly, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012.
As a result of the growing epidemic, First Lady Michelle Obama helped champion the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which set new nutrition standards for school meals.
The First Lady also oversaw the implementation of various exercise initiatives in schools across the nation, including Let’s Move! Active Schools, a public campaign aimed at promoting health among youth.
Earlier this year, Central Elementary was recognized as one of four Idaho schools to receive the national Let’s Move! Active Schools award.
According to Dunn, kids run for more than just the incentives and recognition.
“It really is something they love to do,” she said. “We have about 85 percent of our students that are taking part in it this year.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday during recess, those students head to the nearby asphalt track during their 30-minute lunch.
Equipped with barcodes on bracelets, the students begin their 30-minute journeys around the track, which is one-third of a mile.
Teachers await the students at the finish line, scanning their barcodes in order to keep track of the number of laps.
“They don’t have to run, though many do,” said Alan. “Some of them like to walk and others can kick a soccer ball as they go.”
Principal Bob Potter acknowledged the academic advantages of the program, but also said it helps students develop habits that last a lifetime.
“So many of these kids are developing the great habit of running,” he said. “The good news for them is that this is a habit that helps in so many other aspects of life. When you’re healthy, you just do everything better.”
The Sugar-Salem School District is located in Sugar City, about six miles north of Rexburg in East Idaho. Last year Central Elementary served 472 students.