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Passion Is Awarded

Patrick Parker from Indian Creek Elementary School in Lewisville, Texas was recently recognized as Teacher of the Year. Unlike past recipients, you will not find Parker in a classroom. As the school’s PE teacher, he is more likely to be in the gymnasium or outside while his students are running the distance on the track. This year, PE teachers like Coach Parker have had to be creative in untold ways. They make sure kids stay moving and get the physical and emotional benefits of PE during the pandemic.

Coach Parker has worked hard to keep his students motivated to be active, and his hard work has paid off. A Physical Education teacher for 18 years, he is passionate about keeping kids running and moving. Normally, Coach Parker also coaches an afterschool run club for kids. But this year, due to the pandemic, he has been treating his PE class as his youth running club.

Hybrid Schooling

The pandemic has altered the way we do things, which has caused pain points for educators. Indian Creek Elementary School has returned to school operations in a hybrid state—half in-person and half virtual. The in-person students fall under Coach Parker’s umbrella.

Coach Parker says that Marathon Kids Connect digital tools have relieved some pain points. With individual QR codes for students and having the ability for self-scanning, he is still able to freely record physical activity with the distance tracking app. This allows him to stay accountable and ensure his students are getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day.

Coach Parker’s bulletin board!

Marathon Kids Run Across America

Coach Parker has about 400 students ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade. He says they start each class with 10 minutes of heart-pumping activity. With Marathon Kids Connect, 10 minutes of activity equals half a mile. Occasionally, his classes will run or walk laps outside, and every nine weeks they have a max distance run/jog/walk challenge. Coach Parker encourages his student to just move. He tells them if they need to walk, that’s okay because they are still being active.

Coach Parker has a bulletin board displayed to show each class rank and distance. He says the biggest benefit of Marathon Kids is that his students now set goals for themselves on how many laps they want to work towards running. For Indian Creek Elementary School, twenty laps equal a mile. Coach Parker had one student tell him he was going to get to 40 laps, and the student marked his own words!

See how the students are running the distance!

Additionally, to show the kids how far they have collectively run, Coach Parker has equated their miles to running the distance across America. He marked a route from Maine to California. As a school they are currently on mile 4,700, so they are in west Texas right now! He says kids get excited seeing how far they have come and will ask him what state are they in now! He also marks on the map how far each grade as traveled. It is a great and fun visual for to the kids to see their progress and what they have accomplished!

Thanks to generous support from H-E-B, Marathon Kids’ physical activity programming is available and free to all Texas schools, like Indian Creek Elementary School.

About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids shows kids through running that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Kids in the program work at their own pace to run or walk the equivalent mileage of four marathons (or more!). They run one lap at a time, one day at a time, and before they know it they’ve gone farther than they ever dreamed. Kids enrolled in the program have a network of dedicated adults showing them how it’s done, and most importantly, a motivated and inspiring coach supporting them every step of the way.

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Austin-based water filter company makes donation to help Texas students stay active

AUSTIN, Texas – March 23, 2021 – Marathon Kids is teaming up with Aquasana, maker of water filtration products for the home and on-the-go, to help Texas school children stay hydrated. Proper hydration is essential for wellness and development, and the Marathon Kids mission is to get kids moving and set them on the path toward a lifetime of good health.

With the Marathon Kids program, kids run a cumulative marathon or more, one mile at a time, one day at a time. Runners know the importance of staying hydrated for optimal health and athletic performance, and Aquasana believes clean drinking water, filtered of potentially harmful contaminants, is fundamental for overall health and well-being.

The partnership with Aquasana comes in time for the 41st National Nutrition Month®,  an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to highlight the importance of healthful eating and physical activity habits. The Marathon Kids program teaches children to set goals and celebrate their progress. Active kids need plenty of water daily, and they can work with their Marathon Kids coaches to set hydration goals along with their daily distance targets. 

“We’re dedicated to supporting overall wellness by providing easier access to healthy, great-tasting water,” said Derek Mellencamp, General Manager at Aquasana. “Good nutrition and physical activity are important to schoolchildren now more than ever, and we’re thrilled to support Marathon Kids in helping them establish strong foundations for a long and healthy life.”

Research shows that healthy children perform better in school and make better choices. Marathon Kids will use Aquasana’s generous donation to help more children, of all backgrounds and abilities, access their programming, set healthy habits and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids shows kids through running that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Kids in the program work at their own pace to run or walk the equivalent mileage of four marathons (or more!). They run one lap at a time, one day at a time, and before they know it they’ve gone farther than they ever dreamed. Kids enrolled in the program have a network of dedicated adults showing them how it’s done, and most importantly, a motivated and inspiring coach supporting them every step of the way. 

About Aquasana

Aquasana, an A. O. Smith Corporation company (NYSE-AOS), is dedicated to improving the overall health and wellness of every home by delivering clean, healthy and great-tasting water through its best-in-class water filtration systems. Aquasana’s family of award-winning premium water filters—including whole-house filtration systems, shower filters, under-sink filters, countertop filters, reverse osmosis systems and portable filter bottles—provide easy and immediate access to healthy water at home and on the go. For more information, visit Aquasana.com.

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We were excited for the opportunity to catch up with Marathon Kids’ DaCoach this spring! As the Health and Wellness Coordinator for Belmont Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the Marathon Kids run club the Belmont Ballers, personal fitness coach and owner of GameOn!Fitness, he is a man of many hats. He’s also a man of many names, known to his Belmont students, Marathon Kids runners and personal training clients as DaCoach, King Coach or simply his given name, Donte Samuel.

DaCoach has headed up the Belmont Ballers for nearly 15 years. He’s been vegan for five, ever since discovering he had a serious heart condition. The revelation pushed him to reconsider his own approach to health and wellness, including adopting a vegan diet, and the results have been better than he’d hoped: When he visits the doctor, his bloodwork and other tests routinely show him to be in excellent health.

“It’s been a ride,” he says of being vegan, especially in his area of Baltimore, which he considers a food desert—a region without adequate access to fresh, affordable produce and other healthy foods—and where the chicken box is one of the most popular meals around. “Sometimes people ask me, hey, how can you eat that? But I cut off bites for them and it’s so good.”

The Pandemic Made Health and Wellness More Important Than Ever

Exactly one year since the pandemic caused shutdowns across the U.S., Samuel’s students have finally returned to in-person learning. He is philosophical about the pandemic as well as the ongoing shifts in schooling. “We have to learn to be patient and go through the trials and errors. The students have their laptops with them now, and when it’s time for me to teach their resource class, health and wellness, they stay right there in the class. Everything has to be done inside the class.”

The Marathon Kids program counts 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity as equivalent to running one mile.

“We get up and moving. We’ll do a TikTok dance, running in place, jumping rope, lunges, jump-lunges—it all counts as distance.”

DaCoach

The same principles extend to the students’ time at home, where DaCoach always recommends Marathon Kids running for staying active and resolving the challenges associated with long hours spent together indoors. “The beauty of Marathon Kids is, when the kids are in the house with their parents, sometimes they’re getting on their nerves. I’ll say to them, ‘Why don’t you have them run in place for ten minutes, even five minutes?’ Some of the parents are burned out with electronics, so for the tracking, I’ve had the parents write it down and send it to me.”

When he’s working with students at school, he always reminds teachers to take the kids outside. “The track is right there. We’ve worked out how many times around the yard equals a mile. I’ll post it up, so people have the opportunity to see what they’re doing.” Other times, he encourages the teachers to use Marathon Kids as motivation. “Tell the students they’ve got to run their laps before they can take part in the games we’ve set up, and the kids are ready to go. Let’s go!”

Holistic Health and Wellness: Not Just Physical Fitness

DaCoach’s approach to health and wellness extends well beyond physical activity. “At our school,” he says, “I want us to be the healthiest possible, inside and out. One of the things we talk about is roots, branches, seeds and soil. If you eat properly, that’s going to help ward off some of the health issues that may arise. I always say, when you get to dirty thirty, all the oils, salt, sugars, all that stuff comes out of you. So how do you come back from it? You want to make sure that you take care of yourself.”

His students, growing up within a food desert, learn from DaCoach about all sorts of things related to the foods that are most readily available to them. “When they come to me and say, ‘Coach, I opened up this bags of chips and it’s almost empty’—I tell them, you know, that’s nitrogen holding it down. ‘What? What’s nitrogen?’ And that starts the conversation about all these foods, full of salt and sugars.”

He has maintained the school’s relationships with Great Kids Farm, where the students go for hands-on learning about working with plants and raising food crops, and with the Nutrition Lady—Lauren Williams, who brings fresh vegetables to Belmont Elementary for the students to take home to their families. As always, DaCoach continues his years-long focus on the many different aspects of living a healthy lifestyle. “I tell the kids about keeping their hands clean, keeping their noses clean, sneezing into their elbows. I’ve been talking about this for years. Belmont Elementary in Baltimore is one of the healthiest schools in the country, and that’s because we just continue to do it and continue to say it.”

Sticking with Marathon Kids for the Long Run

DaCoach says his longevity with Marathon Kids stems from the fact that the program works—and from love. “I’ve stuck with Marathon Kids because they have shown me so much love. So much love! Another teacher at Belmont had told me about it and introduced it to me, and I thought it would be a great idea. I took it and ran with it.”

The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to complete the distance of four full marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of a run season. From the beginning, DaCoach appreciated the way the program teaches kids to reach a big goal in one-mile increments: “Wow, we’ll be able to finish up the 26.2 miles and then the maturation process to the full 104.8—and I just saw how they kept going.”

Plus, there have been some incredible milestones along the way. “Almost five years ago, the First Lady Michelle Obama came to run with us. That was ree-donkulous! I was running with a GoPro on my head.”

Find Your Wheelhouse, and Keep Improving

DaCoach’s Marathon Kids experiences also inform his work as a personal fitness coach, and vice versa. “I had a client the other day, she’d been eating all the bad foods. She wasn’t feeling good. She kept saying, ‘Coach, I want to stop.’ I was thinking of one of my students saying the same thing, and I always tell them—this is what we train for.”

The Marathon Kids program makes running fun and accessible for kids of all backgrounds and abilities, and emphasizes celebrating every milestone. “With so many people with flash bulbs and cheering for us,” says DaCoach, “it keeps it going.”

Most of all, he’s all about helping raise the kids right. “Whatever I do, whether it’s with GameOn!Fitness or anything else, it’s to help thousands of students. Students eventually become adults, and they come back and help.” With anything you do, he says, “you want to find your wheelhouse, and continue to churn the bottom of that barrel. Do the things you do great, and do them better. Find your weaknesses and figure out how to do them best.”

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Educating our kids has taken on new meaning during COVID-19. While the education process varies from district to district and school to school, one principle remains constant: it is vital to prioritize kids’ health and well-being. Physical education is a key contributor to physical and mental health during and after the pandemic.

We’re making March ALL ABOUT PE: why it’s so important, how it’s made a difference during the pandemic, and how parents and taxpayers can advocate for PE moving forward. Join the Active Schools movement, comprised of 90+ partner organizations and more than 44,000 registered champions for #PEMovingForward, a social media campaign to celebrate and advocate for PE!

School districts are making decisions NOW about how to conduct and fund education for school year 2021-22, so let the decision-makers know what you want and expect for your child and all students.

5 WAYS YOU CAN SUPPORT PE

1. Pledge your support for PE – become an Active Schools champion; it’s free.

2. Post your PE stories on social media using the hashtag #PEMovingForward.

Thank a PE Teacher – tag your child’s PE teacher and/or school and give them a shout-out.

3. Learn tried-and-true parent and taxpayer PE advocacy strategies.

➤ Participate in a free 1-hour webinar on Monday, March 15, 3-4pm ET / 2-3pm CT / 1-2pm MT / 12-1pm PT – REGISTER HERE.

➤ Hear from the experts at the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) and three parents who have successfully advocated for PE.

4. Email or send a letter about the importance of PE to your principal, superintendent, and school board.

Use these easy template letters.

5. Advocate for PE on social media.

➤ Use hashtag #PEMovingFoward and tag (@) your school, principal, school district, superintendent, and school board members.

➤ You could also tag members of your district’s health/wellness advisory committee and your school’s health/wellness advisory committee and PTA/PTO.

Key Physical Education Information and Advocacy Resources 

It’s Time to Prioritize Health & Physical Education from SHAPE America

Strengthen Physical Education in Schools from Springboard to Active School

Exercise Their Minds from Voices for Healthy Kids

Physical Education and Physical Activity from CDC

Physical Education Along with Physical Activity: Kids Need Both from SHAPE America

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Betsy Foster has been supporting Marathon Kids for 20 years. Please consider making a donation in her name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

As CEO of Healthy America and a former senior executive at Whole Foods—most recently as Senior Vice President of Growth and Business Development, a position she held for 15 years—Betsy Foster has long prioritized health and wellness, especially for children. When she met with Kay Morris nearly 20 years ago to brainstorm together about how to grow and expand Marathon Kids, it was a natural move to accept Morris’s invitation to join the organization’s advisory board. In 2007, Foster joined the board, and she has been a Marathon Kids board member ever since.

“I was drawn to Marathon Kids because their mission is about getting all children moving and on a path to health,” she says. “I found Marathon Kids to have a solid program that really resonated with kids and schools, and could be implemented at school to create movement almost every day of the week. This program could address the increasing obesity in our children, and keep them active and healthy and away from screens.”

Betsy Foster

Physical Activity Improves Overall Wellbeing 

Foster believes physical activity is important not just for the mind and the body, but for overall health and wellbeing. “Our bodies need and want to move. We perform better in school and at work if we are active and healthy.”

She appreciates Marathon Kids for the way the organization has created a “structured, fun, inspiring way to engage our children to move, and teaches and instills in them healthy habits they can carry with them the rest of their lives. It teaches them that they can do things they didn’t know they could, and they feel better when they do it!”

Children Need Leaders Who Inspire Them

Foster believes anyone with an interest in helping children build foundations for a healthy life should get involved with Marathon Kids. “This is a great program for our children,” she says, “who need leaders to motivate, inspire and engage them to become healthier and more active. This is a great gift you would be giving to our children! They need you.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider making a donation to Betsy’s 25th Anniversary Fundraiser.