LANDER—Shortly after the noon bell rings, fourth graders stream out of Baldwin Creek Elementary School onto the playground. Many shoot like arrows toward a dirt path that traces the perimeter of their recess area in a one-third-mile loop. They gallop and sprint, walk and jog, racking up miles that will earn them rewards.
These kids are members of Baldwin Creek Elementary School’s Blazin’ Bobcat Mileage Club, which incentivizes students to move their bodies during school breaks.
Daniel Leafgreen, 10, has already run 13 miles in just the first few weeks of school. He tries to run six laps — or 2 miles — per recess, he said.
“It’s fun, it’s a good sport, you use a lot of your energy,” he said. For Leafgreen, there’s also a bit of a sibling rivalry at play. “I’m trying to beat my brother’s record.”
Misty Atnip, who teaches math and P.E., started the club in 2011. She was training for the Boston Marathon at the time, and “I thought ‘gosh, how could I share my love of running with my kids?’”
After conversations with administration, she hatched the mileage club. Staff used a distance wheel to manually measure out one-third of a mile around the playground’s perimeter. The idea was that as kids accrued miles, they would earn rewards and hopefully, develop an appreciation for movement.
It seems to have worked; 175 kids now participate. Every quarter, the school has celebrations for students who have reached 7 miles. In the spirit of the club, they are centered around activity — like ice skating or a session at the climbing gym.
The mileage club started with on-duty recess teachers punching holes in kids’ cards as they finished each lap. “I was counting hole punches on Sundays,” Atnip said, laughing. “I never want to see a hole puncher again.”
Club members are now assigned lanyards that recess teachers scan with their phones as they finish a lap. The kids’ enthusiasm for movement has also evolved, Atnip said.
Before, she said, “I noticed there were kids who weren’t playing. Like they didn’t know how to play outside.” Atnip thought students could benefit from something as simple as walking.
“And that’s just grown,” she said. “It’s pretty cool to watch it morph.”
Some kids read books while walking laps, others run with steely determination and others skip the laps to play on the equipment.
Adalynn Daniels is one of the club’s regulars. She normally aims to run two miles a day, she said, but sometimes, like this day, she goes for it and runs an extra lap.
Daniels doesn’t come from a family of runners, she said. But finishing laps makes her feel proud. “It’s very fun.”
The club’s all-time record was set during the pandemic, and it’ll likely hold. Bryce Newman ran 326 miles, Atnip said. “And he would use every mask break. So he knows now no one is going to break his record, because we don’t have mask breaks anymore!”
Atnip and club supporters are most of the way through an effort to raise money to pave and upgrade the path. Along with making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the upgrade would make it easier for custodians to keep clear all year long, and it could also attract members of the community to use as a walking loop outside of school hours.
Getting more movement into peoples’ lives, Atnip said, “that’s why I think I was put on this planet.”
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