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Now through January 31, Nike stores across the country are inviting shoppers to learn about three of their partner organizations and to donate $1 or more to these nonprofits dedicated to getting kids active. Marathon Kids is one. The others are Girls Inc. and PeacePlayers.

Excited by this challenge to learn more about other nonprofits doing great work to get kids moving, we asked PeacePlayers a few questions!

What is PeacePlayers? Give us the elevator pitch.  

PeacePlayers is a globally recognized organization that uses basketball to unite, educate and inspire young people in divided communities to create a more peaceful world. Through our sports-based programming, we are building a movement of young leaders, in some of the world’s most challenging places, who are empowered to develop as advocates for peace. In our increasingly fractured global community, we at PeacePlayers believe that sport, particularly basketball, has a unique ability to bring people together. Our unique program model is based on the premise that children who play together can learn to live together. 

Photo: Instagram

Founded in 2001, PeacePlayers now operates year-round local programs in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Cyprus, South Africa, and most recently, the United States.

Can you describe what makes PeacePlayers special in one sentence?

Our incredible youth leaders at PeacePlayers—who are using the unifying power of sport to bridge divides and change perceptions in some of the world’s most historically divided communities.

Coach Sally Nnamani. Photo: Instagram.

How many kids participate in your programs each year?

We have over 4,000 youth participants come through our PeacePlayers’ programs each year throughout our five year-round sites around the world, but it’s important to understand the lifetime journey of our participants and the ripple effect of the impact each participant has on their family, coaches, schools and broader community. We are building a global community of advocates for peace that impacts much more than the kids who directly participate in our programs.

Is there a story that comes to mind about a kid whose life was changed by PeacePlayers?

Karissa from our PeacePlayers Brooklyn program is a great example of one of our inspiring youth leaders. Karissa was first introduced to PeacePlayers when she was 13 years old and in the 8th grade. She joined as a member of the inaugural PeacePlayers girls’ league at her school in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Where Karissa lives in Brooklyn is home to 18 public housing developments, the largest concentration of public housing in the Americas. There is ongoing violence and division in the community where Karissa lives and it can often be challenging to feel safe to travel to other parts of the community even within Brownsville itself.

PeacePlayers was Karissa’s first exposure to organized basketball. Through her participation in PeacePlayers, she has felt a sense of community and has been inspired by a PeacePlayers’ female coach, one who she could see herself in. Through PeacePlayers she was also brought together with young people in a school from the other side of her neighborhood. She enjoyed that experience so much that she and a teammate pleaded with their coach to have more practices with the other school.  

A few months ago, PeacePlayers Brooklyn officially launched their first high school leadership development program, which Karissa is now a part of, and she has also helped use her learned leadership skills to bring in other girls from different sides of her Brownsville community to join her in playing with PeacePlayers on a weekly basis. She is gaining leadership skills both on and off the basketball court and helping to develop a network of young leaders in her community who are fostering a more peaceful world.

Are there any exciting new projects you are working on this year? 

Yes! We are bringing youth participants from our PeacePlayers’ sites around the world together for our first-ever global games this summer! In August 2020 we will bring young leaders from LA to Northern Ireland and from Chicago to South Africa all together for a week of basketball competition, leadership programming, and cultural exchange activities.

Photo: Instagram

Many of our participants have limited opportunity to interact with youth from outside of their communities, let alone outside of the country. Having our inaugural PeacePlayers Friendship Games will be a great opportunity for them to understand that they are truly part of a global peace movement.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the future?

For one, we hope to find more ways to collaborate with institutional and community partners (like your team at Marathon Kids!) who are using the power of sport for good and supporting youth leaders who are making a difference in their communities. Like your team, through sport, we hope to show kids that they can achieve maybe more than they ever thought was possible, and by strategically partnering with organizations we hope to deepen, sustain and scale our impact on the path to building a global youth peace movement through sport.

To learn more, visit the PeacePlayers website and consider making a donation!

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Coach Susan Cary first heard about Marathon Kids when the principal at Bennie L. Cole Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, where Cary teaches fifth grade, was working with a parent to find a sponsor to start a run club. “I love families and believe in the importance of building healthy habits together,” says Cary. “I have a passion for seeing healthy families thrive. This is what motivated me—the ability to accomplish this via Marathon Kids.”

Marathon Kids

Now in its third year, the Cole Mighty Milers consists of 72 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The club meets year-round on a weekly basis, and students run anywhere from a half-mile to two miles at a time; many students also run after school to increase their mileage. And the run club isn’t just about logging miles. Through the Mighty Milers, students also learn about stretching exercises as well as healthy eating habits and both short- and long-distance running strategies.

The New Marathon Kids Digital Lap Tracking App Makes Tracking Miles Easy

School staff members and run club volunteers use the new Marathon Kids digital lap tracking app—Marathon Kids Connect—to keep track of the students’ mileage. About Marathon Kids Connect, Cary says, “We LOVE it! It’s quite easy to use, primarily due to the fact that the Marathon Kids website has great tech support. They do a wonderful job of responding to our questions right away and walking us through the process in real-time.”

The Cole Elementary staff and volunteers who help run the Mighty Milers also love the reports that are available through the app. “It allows us to share real-time goals with our kids on a week-to-week basis, enabling them to adjust and push themselves more each week depending on what their personal goals are.”

Run Club Allows Children To Showcase Their Skills

“A good number of our kids come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds,” Cary says. “Some kids have a healthy background with their families, but many do not. They want to learn, and have a hunger for athletics and improving their health habits.”
Marathon Kids

One thing the Mighty Milers focus on together is goal-setting. “We are continuously helping our kids set goals every time we meet,” says Cary. “We use the Remind 101 app to communicate with parents and ensure they are partnering with us on this task. Parents love to know how their kids are doing. This enables parents to get involved alongside us in setting the kids’ goals, both in and outside of the school club.”

She also points out the importance for students’ self-esteem of participating in a school run club with appropriate support and encouragement. “Students with and without running talent gain an opportunity to showcase their special skills through run club! Being able to excel in at least one area in school is extremely important in improving students’ self-esteem, motivation and attendance. Our Marathon Kids Cole Mighty Milers Run Club has done this and more for our seventy-plus students.”

Running Enables Positive Changes—In Everyone

Each year, Cary has seen increasing interest among her student runners to be involved in the Mighty Milers in order to gain healthy habits as well as a clearer and more powerful mindset. “We have more than a one-hundred-percent return rate from last year’s students, and more students asking to participate every day. Through our run club, our students experience firsthand the joy of completion, competition and commitment.”

Through their Marathon Kids run club, the student runners are meeting goals they never imagined, and self-reflection from the students indicates they believe running has helped them achieve their goals.

Cary has also seen benefits for herself since starting the run club. “The Marathon Kids program has motivated and continues to motivate me to be a role model for these kids. It has not only impacted me positively, but also my school and my family. I was twenty-five pounds overweight when I started this run club; since starting the club, I have lost twenty-two pounds and am still losing. My mother passed away at the young age of sixty-three due to due to her lack of living a healthy lifestyle. I want to be an example to my brothers and sisters as well as my students of what living a healthy lifestyle can do.”

Teamwork Helps Runners Push Through Tough Moments

The Mighty Milers know running gets difficult from time to time. To push through tough moments, the students take frequent water breaks and encourage one another. “We motivate our kids by running alongside them and encouraging them as we go with high fives and feedback,” Cary says. “We tell them, ‘Come on, you got this, you’re almost there, you can do it.’ The kids also see us scan our mileage cards as well.”

The students learn through their Marathon Kids running that you can’t always rush to the finish, because sometimes you might run out of endurance and focus. “These lessons will stick with our students as they return back to the classroom and try to finish reading chapter books, work in groups, or write essays.”

Cary says, “We are thankful for the positivity and smiles Marathon Kids puts on our students’ faces, and how it gives them something to look forward to at the end of the day. There is nothing better than seeing the face of a student that just completed their first mile and every mile after!”

For anyone who is thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club, Cary recalls the famous Nike slogan: “Just do it. The outcome far outweighs any negative thoughts or fears. You will be pleasantly surprised and more than pleased with the participation and the desire that your colleagues, students, parents and community have for the program.”

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The Marathon Kids program is all about progress—showing kids that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Runners in Marathon Kids run clubs across the country made incredible progress in 2019, and they weren’t the only ones. The organization itself also took important steps forward with a new initiative—Marathon Kids Connect—designed to help make the Marathon Kids program easier to use and more accessible to everyone.

“Running isn’t just fun; it’s fundamental. Kids need to move more. With Marathon Kids Connect, we are expanding access, equity, engagement, and impact.”

Cami Hawkins, Marathon Kids CEO

Marathon Kids Connect is the organization’s new digital lap tracking technology. In the past, coaches, teachers, and volunteers have tracked students’ progress manually on mileage logs provided by Marathon Kids. They now have the option to download the Marathon Kids Connect app to their phones. Student runners receive individualized ID cards to scan as they complete each lap, automatically uploading their mileage to their run clubs’ Marathon Kids Connect accounts.

NOW TRACKING LAPS IS A BREEZE FOR COACHES, TEACHERS, AND VOLUNTEERS

Not only does the app make lap-tracking a breeze for coaches (they don’t even need WiFi to scan IDs out on the track!), it’s also a great way for parents to stay involved with their kids’ run clubs. Marathon Kids has always been a community-based organization and effort, and the Marathon Kids Connect app enables parents to access their children’s dashboards, keep up with their progress and help celebrate milestones.

Soon after the launch of the digital tracking app, the results began rolling in as Marathon Kids run club coaches took to Twitter to celebrate the start of the season. Coach D., PE teacher at Casey Elementary, Tweeted, “Marathon Kids kickoff has begun. The kids were ready to go especially with the new digital scanners!!!” Run club coach and Kimball Elementary PE teacher Kelly F. Tweeted, “The free lap tracker from @MarathonKids worked great and really helps [students] pace themselves!”

Baldwin Elementary PE teacher and run club coach Julie S. wrote, “We are loving the new lap tracker!”

And Libby D., run club coach and PE teacher at Harris Elementary, wrote, “We love the digital tracking! We didn’t even let the rain stop us.”

MARATHON KIDS CONNECT GRANT PROVIDES FREE ACCESS TO DIGITAL LAP TRACKING TECHNOLOGY

The app is included with all paid Marathon Kids run club registrations, but now through January 15, 2020, coaches can also apply for the Marathon Kids Connect Grant to gain free access just to the digital lap tracking technology. While recipients don’t receive physical rewards for runners, like the Nike incentives that come with paid clubs, they do receive free run club tools, printable reward certificates, and resources including the digital lap tracking app and reporting platform.

As of only a few months into the 2019-2020 run club season, the Marathon Kids Connect grant had already enabled more than 28,330 runners in Marathon Kids Connect-only run clubs across the country to access the digital scanning utility. The grant is open until January 15, 2020, and run clubs at elementary, middle and high schools as well as youth-serving community organizations are eligible and encouraged to apply. The grant application takes just five minutes to complete and represents the quickest, easiest and most affordable way to start a Marathon Kids run club.

At Marathon Kids, it is understood that running is for everyone. Now, with the Marathon Kids Connect grant, more runners than ever can start down the path toward a lifetime of movement, milestones, community, and healthy choices.

Apply by January 15, 2020, or visit our Grants page to be notified of future grant opportunities.

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No matter what traditions their individual families celebrate at home, most kids love the holiday season for the sense of warmth and excitement that permeates the air, and of course the approaching break from school. These holiday PE games are a great way to channel students’ excitement, and also any stress they might be feeling. Yes, the holidays can be a bit tense and chaotic for everyone, including children, who pick up on any strain the adults in their lives may be feeling. Good thing getting the body moving is a known stress-reliever!

These five holiday PE games tap into the joy and cheer of the season, and are great for helping kids of all ages stay centered in both mind and body through the holidays. Play festive holiday music during activity time and decorate cones and other areas of the gym with snowman cut-outs or wrapping paper to add to the festive fun!

Holiday PE Games

Holiday PE Games

1. Winter Stations

Set up the number of stations that works for your space and then divide students into the same number of groups. Stations can include a Wreath Toss (tossing hula hoops or actual wreaths over cones), Snowball Target Practice (tossing foam balls, bean bags or any other type of smaller balls toward a target), Snowball Relay (kicking soccer balls along a path or using hockey sticks to push them along to the next student in line), Scooter Bobsledding (one student sitting on a scooter as their partner pushes them along a designated path), or Ice Skating (sliding around with each foot on a paper plate — students can also balance a bean bag as a “snow hat” on their heads for an added challenge).

2. Reindeer Tag

Kids love a good game of tag, and this holiday version is sure to delight. Taggers are elves, and runners are reindeer; when runners are tagged, they must freeze in place and put their hands to their heads, thumb-first with fingers outstretched, to simulate reindeer horns. Other “reindeer” who haven’t yet been tagged can un-freeze tagged runners by singing the first phrase of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while releasing the frozen runner with a high-five.

3. Santa Stations

Students get to be Santa Claus! Have students deliver presents (running with balls or bean bags from a central pile to designated drop-off points around the gym, such as bins or hula hoops laid out on the floor); climb the chimney (practicing their rope-climbing skills); build toys (stacking foam blocks in a tower — extra points for precision!); ride in Santa’s sleigh (pushing or pulling each other on scooters along a designated course); and work off all those cookies and milk (doing set repetitions of jumping-jacks, mountain-climbers and other cardio moves). Santa Stations work great as a timed course for older kids, or simply as skill-building stations for all ages.

4. Christmas Tree and Menorah Tag

This simple game of tag can be played in short rounds, rotating taggers each time. Before beginning the game, talk with the students about which of their families celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah and decorate a Christmas tree, light a menorah, or both. You can discuss the fact that these are traditions for some but not all families each December. Then begin the game: Depending on the size of your class, designate between two and four taggers and give each of them a small ball (softer ones work best). Taggers will use these balls as either “ornaments” or “candles” to tag other runners; when tagged, runners can choose whether to turn into a Christmas tree or a menorah, either by using their arms and legs to make triangle shapes with their bodies, like a tree, or by putting up their arms to simulate the shape of a menorah. They can hold that position until the end of the round, when all tagged runners are released and new taggers take over.

5. Melting Snowmen

To play this fun and fast-paced game, lay out hula-hoops on the floor throughout the gym with a bowling pin, representing a snowman, in the center of each hoop. Students stand inside the hula-hoops, protecting their own snowmen while “melting” others’ pins by rolling balls into them. Depending on class size, two or more students should line up on the sidelines of the game and wait their turn to jump in on the action. Anytime a snowman melts (meaning a bowling pin topples over, whether because a player hit it with a ball or knocked over their own pin in the heat of the game), the first student in line on the side heads to that hoop to take over, while the original player heads to the back of the waiting line.

Want more? Check out 5 Fun PE Running Games!

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Larry Chauvin has taught PE for the past eight years at Casis Elementary School in Austin, Texas. He has also been a Marathon Kids coach at Casis for 15 years, ever since he began working there as a classroom teacher. “I am lucky enough to teach in a district that supports Marathon Kids in all elementary schools,” he says, “so we are proud members of Austin ISD.”

Coach Larry’s love of running began when he started teaching at Casis. “I was someone who was active,” he says, “but I considered being active as doing a few push-ups at night. A parent at my school invited me out for a jog, and three miles later, I was in pain and had no idea what I was doing.”

A week later, the same parent invited Coach Larry on another run, this time for four miles. Soon, he started to enjoy running and the challenge of meeting new distance and time goals. Over time, he dropped 30 pounds, changed his diet and started running 5K and 10K races. Now, he says, “I have ten marathons under my belt! It was such a change for me, and really helped me on my path to change from a classroom teacher to a PE teacher.”

BEING ACTIVE IS A WAY OF LIFE AT CASIS

At Casis, Coach Larry says, “running and being healthy and active is our way of life. Students love to walk or bike to school, we always allow for brain breaks and recess time, families participate in fun runs, and we know the importance of a healthy diet. We also know having a sweet or two is okay. Moderation is the key!”

His Marathon Kids run club, called the Casis Running Club, has about 350 runners ranging from kindergarteners to fifth-graders. As part of the district’s wellness initiative, Casis students run with their classroom teachers for ten minutes each school day. Some teachers print out logs for each student and have them track their own miles, while others keep a classroom log. Most classrooms run their 10 minutes on days when they don’t have PE, but some teachers love running laps as a brain break and make sure to get their classes outside daily.

Austin Marathon Kids

MANTRA: MOVEMENT IS MEDICINE

Coach Larry was a classroom teacher for his first seven years at Casis, before switching over to teaching Physical Education. “As a classroom teacher, it was my job to keep track of students’ miles. Now, as a PE teacher, I get to be in charge of the entire campus completing their Marathon Kids log and living an active lifestyle.” In ten minutes of jogging, he says, typically 60% of the class will complete a full mile.

“Movement is medicine” is one of his favorite mantras. “Students love to run at my school,” he says, “and Marathon Kids has really helped encourage this excitement.” The students find intrinsic motivation in their run club, and Coach Larry and the other Casis teachers also find ways to keep the children engaged. “Most kids are running to beat their old times, but we also recognize our top three runners from each grade level during our fun run week.”

In order to keep things fresh and fun for everyone throughout the run club season, he says, “We really focus on pacing so the running can stay consistent and enjoyable. We also encourage kids to run with a buddy at a conversational pace to keep them motivated to finish. And if needed, it’s okay to walk!”

MARATHON KIDS OFFERS BENEFITS FOR EVERYONE

Coach Larry has definitely seen benefits for himself since becoming a Marathon Kids coach, as well as for his students and his colleagues at Casis. “I always enjoy running with the kiddos, and it’s great for them to see people they look up to running, too! Teachers also notice a better focus after running their ten minutes on the track.”

His advice for anyone who is considering starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach? “Do it! Don’t be afraid to ask for help with donations or even creating a Gofundme to make it happen on your campus. Fitness and wellness goals should be part of your campus goals, and Marathon Kids will help you exceed any of those goals.”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking.