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Dr. George Woods is the Health and Physical Education Specialist for Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD), but he wants to change that. Not his position—what he wants to change is the department title itself, to the Department of Health and Wellness. Student wellness is important. “When you look at the history of Physical Education and where it started,” he says, “a lot of it goes back to World War I. Back then, we needed people to be ready for war, to be in better shape, so calisthenics was a big thing. They took a really rigid, military-style approach.”

But the world has changed in the past century, and Dr. Woods says that in higher education, “the term ‘physical activity has all but vanished. Now it’s kinesiology, and physical education is just one component of that.” Here in Texas, he says, PE teachers cover far more than just physical education. “We talk about health, social-emotional learning, meditation, even snakes! We should know what snakes are here—venomous snakes! It keeps kids safe and healthy.”

Dr. Woods knows a lot about keeping kids healthy. Before shifting into his current position in Fall 2020, he was a PE teacher in CCISD for nearly a decade. He was also a Marathon Kids running club coach for five years. “When you say ‘physical education,’” he says, “it focuses on fitness, but as a PE teacher, that’s not my charge. My charge is not to make your child fit. It’s to give them the tools to make appropriate decisions to become a lifelong mover.”

Helping Students Achieve a Lifetime of Movement

Dr. Woods emphasizes that’s not just a Corpus Christi ISD goal, but a national standard: to be a lifelong mover. “We don’t want to make athletes. We love sports, but that’s not what PE is about. It’s about moving, it’s about health, it’s about wellness. These skills will extend into adulthood. It’s about a whole life of movement.”

Woods speaks passionately about PE best practices and student health and wellness. His philosophies align closely with the Marathon Kids mission to get kids moving to set a path towards a lifetime of good health. In fact, he credits his years as a Marathon Kids running club coach with honing his approach to teaching PE. “The coaching packet that the organization provided, and just being able to interact with the people at Marathon Kids, gave me a lot of self-confidence in what I was doing as a PE teacher. It vetted my thoughts in what I was learning to become more of an efficient and effective run club coach.”

Woods taught PE at Woodlawn Elementary School, a Title I school in CCISD. His run club students were in third through fifth grades and met once a week. However, the whole school used Marathon Kids programming. Therefore, any student from any grade level who wanted to meet up with the run club was welcomed.

“We had a modified workout that was developmentally appropriate for the younger students,” Woods says. “I would set up stations, tunnels, and just make it lots of fun and very creative, with lots of color, so the kids would want to go through these obstacle courses. They would have fun, go swing.”

Marathon Kids counts 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity as equivalent to one mile of running or walking. Dr. Woods rarely focused solely on running with his run club kids. “At that younger age,” he says, “I just want them to engage. If they’re moving, if they’re engaging, they’re building their muscle tone while also learning to socially adapt as well.”

Student Motivation and Participation Build Over Time

For the first year of his Marathon Kids run club, the club was small—just four participants. The following year, it grew to about 30 students, and then to about 60 in the third year. After that, Woods says, “it grew to over 100. Then it was just as many kids as I could manage, when I opened it up to kindergarten, first and second grades.”

In those years, Nike provided Marathon Kids run club participants with incentives such as tee shirts and shoelaces to celebrate when kids hit major milestones, such as completing a full marathon. (The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to cover four cumulative marathons. That is 104.8 miles, over the course of a school year or run club season.)

“The students wanted to earn their perks,” Woods remembers. “The shoelaces, the shirt, they wanted to earn it! It was a sign of pride for them to walk around school with that. They knew that other students knew, ‘I was in Coach Woods’s running club.’”

He also kept a mileage tracker displayed prominently for the whole school to see. Then, the students could take pride in their mileage and achievements. One of the best things about his run club, he says, was the community interaction and engagement that it inspired. “It wasn’t just the child, it was the whole community.”

The run club met up to run laps every other Saturday morning. He says he was always glad to see not just the student runners but their whole families participate. “It was parent volunteer coaches, parents and guardians going out and participating with their children in the run club activities,” he recalls. That was a benefit to him as a teacher, as well. “You can educate a kid better when you have a stronger relationship with the parents and guardians.”

Coaching a Run Club During a Pandemic

Everything changed when Covid-19 forced CCISD schools to close in March 2020. “We never went back to school after Spring Break 2020,” Woods says. “Then, in Fall 2020, we did the first four weeks online only, and then we moved to a phased-in progression for in-person learning.”

Woods lost the majority of his Marathon Kids participants during remote learning. However, some students still kept up with their miles from home. “I would send out assignments and would ask my kids, ‘For running club, show me a video of where you’re running, a track or activity log, just anything’—and I would have about 15 to 20 students sending things in.”

Using Marathon Kids Connect to Better Assess Student Physical Activity

Now, as the Health and Physical Education Specialist for CCISD, Woods oversees PE programs in pre-K through 12th grades throughout the district. One of his “big push ideas” for PE relates to transforming how the district approaches student assessment and evaluation. His goal? “I want it to be not just citizenship or behavior grades, but instead designed so that, when we talk to parents, we can be very specific about their kids’ skills and future goals.”

He sees Marathon Kids Connect as an important tool in gathering real data for student assessment. A cloud-based physical-activity tracking and reporting platform, Marathon Kids Connect is available to teachers, coaches and other individuals who want to start a run club or use Marathon Kids programming.

“We want to see where kids are being active,” Dr. Woods says, “and Marathon Kids Connect really allows that. We’re using it district-wide at all elementary middle and high schools. The teachers, the students and their parents can all just put in the students’ physical activity for the day. At that point, we can start creating goals and using it for our Wellness Plan assessment, to see how physically active our students really are.”

A Beneficial Partnership Between Marathon Kids and Corpus Christi ISD

Dr. Woods calls his district’s connection with Marathon Kids “a wonderful partnership. Richard Torres was the district specialist before me, and we have always valued our partnership with Marathon Kids. The program is student focused, seeking what’s best for the student, and that’s all we ever want for our students—to be active in an enjoyable way. Marathon Kids helps us carry that out.”

Corpus Christi ISD schools have embraced Marathon Kids programming. In fact, beginning in the 2021–2022 school year, CCISD will be a District Tech Integration, meaning all CCISD schools can begin building a district-wide culture of health by implementing Marathon Kids programming and Marathon Kids Connect.

Deborah Dudney, the Physical Education teacher at Barnes Elementary School in CCISD, agrees with Dr. Woods about the benefits of her district’s partnership with Marathon Kids. She has been using Marathon Kids Connect with her run club since Fall 2020. “Due to Covid, we had to get creative in PE on how to count laps without handing the kids popsicle sticks,” she says. “There were so many restrictions on the use of equipment that it was difficult to have an accurate take on how they were doing with their mileage, but the Marathon Kids QR codes worked out perfectly!” (Marathon Kids Connect allows students to self-scan their own unique codes after each lap, and works well for safe-distance PE and running activities.)

Dudney says every Monday is Mile Monday in PE class at Barnes, and the students look forward to it every week. “I wanted my students to have something in their hands for each lap, not just so we could keep an accurate count, but also so they could be accountable to themselves for what they were accomplishing.” As of mid-April 2021, she reports, her run club has 270 active runners who have run over 1,800 miles together.

Marathon Kids is always innovating their platform and adding functionalities to better serve teachers, coaches, districts and, most of all, students. “I think Marathon Kids Connect has been a great tool for getting the kids moving and getting prepared for the state mandated FitnessGram,” Dudney says. “I love the Connect app, and I am really looking forward to the ability to download a timed report so the kids can know how long it’s taking them to complete a mile.”

Dudney is just one PE teacher in the district who is supported by Dr. Woods. Woods is an adjunct professor at Texas A&M–Corpus Christi, teaching evening classes in the Department of Kinesiology related to PE methods for elementary and secondary students. His years of teaching PE and coaching a Marathon Kids run club inform his college course content, and all of these experiences together help him support the PE teachers in his district.

“We’re trying to break away from the rigid ‘sport box’ and think about inclusiveness,” he says. “We need to think about change, challenge and choice for our students for differentiation. We want kids up and engaged in what they’re learning, and it has to be equitable.”

The Marathon Kids program has always stood for equity and access, and it’s always been for kids of all abilities. These qualities make it a natural partner for a diverse, growing and innovative district like Corpus Christi ISD.

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Jacob and Celia Whitehead are a married couple who both teach Physical Education in Beaverton School District, just west of Portland, Oregon—Jacob at Bonny Slope Elementary, Celia at Greenway Elementary. The Whiteheads have been coaching Marathon Kids run clubs for years, but they have had to operate their clubs differently since the pandemic forced Beaverton students to shift to fully remote learning in March 2020.

Jacob’s run club, the Bobcat Trail Club, comprises the entire Bonny Slope student body—about 600 students ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. “We’ve always had a running club at Bonny Slope,” he says—no surprise, considering the area’s long and storied running history. Beaverton is where Nike was founded and is still headquartered today; running and physical activity are deeply embedded in the local culture.

Celia coaches the Greenway Marathon Kids Running Club. Pre-pandemic, she had 60 students in the run club in second through fifth grades. “That was the maximum I could support with volunteers,” she says, “and the amount that could safely run on rainy days, which happen a lot in Oregon.” The Beaverton school also had another 70 students in a pilot program—two fourth-grade classes and one second-grade class that ran twice a week for 15 minutes before school started. Parent involvement wasn’t very high, except at the popular end-of-year family fun run. “Families love Marathon Kids,” Celia says. “Some ask to run or walk with their kids in the after-school club.”

Marathon Kids Helps Beaverton Kids Get Moving

Since remote learning began due to the pandemic, the entire Greenway student body has had access to Marathon Kids programming and the option to run or walk and log their miles from home, but only 43 students have been actively participating. Soon, students will be returning part-time to in-person learning at school; when that shift occurs, they will be able to use their “brain boost” time in class to run laps and log their miles.

The Greenway run club may be small, but it’s active. “Kids love to socialize and be in this club,” Celia says. “It’s fun, kids set goals, and it’s a great way for them to stay active!” Since Greenway is a Title I school, its students don’t have much access to sports or other organized activities. “To be able to apply for a grant and then offer Marathon Kids programming to kids for free was HUGE! Kids at my school are in a lower-income demographic and need movement since opportunities aren’t always available for them. They love to run or walk with their friends.”

Celia first heard about Marathon Kids when another teacher in Beaverton School District started coaching a run club. Jacob first learned about it when the district received a federal PEP grant for Physical Education. “Part of it was having organizations partner with our schools to further PE and kids’ movement,” he says. That was when Beaverton began working with Nike and Jacob integrated Bonny Slope’s running club with Marathon Kids.

Beaverton Run Clubs Run Smoothly with Marathon Kids Connect 

During a normal school year, the Bobcat Trail Club runners meet up two mornings a week at the school track to run before class, while Greenway runners meet up once a week after school for snack time, a quick warmup and then logging miles. “Each student’s miles are different,” Jacob says. “We used ID cards in the past, where parents would mark the students’ cards as they ran past, but I was looking forward this year to using Marathon Kids Connect.”

Marathon Kids Connect is the digital lap-tracking app and reporting platform. It enables coaches, teachers and volunteers to digitally scan runners’ ID cards; the app automatically logs the laps and overall distances. Celia’s run club had already been using the app to track students’ miles before the pandemic began. “It’s so easy to use,” she says. “I set up a couple of iPads with the tracks preset, and kids can run and scan on their own. It was a huge time saver.”

Jacob wasn’t able to begin using the MKC app due to the start of the pandemic and the shift to remote learning, but he has relied on it throughout this year of remote learning. “Typically, in school,” he says, “we have around 200 to 250 kids fully engaged in the running club.” Back in March 2020, he sent out an all-school email to introduce how the club would continue to be available remotely to Bonny Slope students via Marathon Kids Connect.

Parent engagement was high at first, with students running or walking around their neighborhoods and submitting their miles through the MKC app. Jacob used the app to contact families about milestones their students reached and rewards they earned. “Parents were really happy to know that even though students wouldn’t have access to the normal running club, they would still have access to something to help their students stay active and motivated.”

Challenges Due to the Pandemic and Remote Learning

Engagement at Bonny Slope has dropped since then, with 132 students currently having activated Marathon Kids Connect accounts and regularly logging miles. “We always have a huge engagement in our normal at-school running club,” Jacob says, “but many parents I believe have started to get overwhelmed and have been less consistent in logging their students’ miles, which I totally understand.”

Celia reports low participation as the biggest challenge that has come up for her students at Greenway since remote learning began. “Students are definitely struggling with PE participation. I think a lot of it has to do with motivation. Some kids have internet issues; some are in multiple-family homes, and PE is not the priority in regards to education. Some are doing the best they can, and being on the screen for PE just isn’t for them.”

Jacob has had similar issues with his students at Bonny Slope. “The challenge for PE this year has been students showing up,” he says. “Even if they do show up, it’s been a challenge having their cameras on to see engagement. It also is challenging because many students don’t have equipment at home to use for many activities that we would normally do in PE.”

A Return to In-Person Learning, and Continuing to Navigate Challenges

Both Greenway and Bonny Slope students are shifting to hybrid learning in April, meaning a blend of remote and in-person classes, but their PE classes will remain fully remote through the end of the school year. Both Jacob and Celia expect the challenges to continue with the return to hybrid learning. Bonny Slope students won’t be going outside yet for recess, and they still won’t have access to the normal running club. They will be at school only for a couple of hours a day, and only to be in their classrooms, focusing on core academics—reading, writing and math. At Greenway, Celia will be teaching PE via Zoom, and her Marathon Kids run club will continue to be remote.

Still, both coaches and their students are pushing through the challenges and making it work. Celia reports that Zoom classes have much higher participation than fully remote PE lessons that students are expected to complete on their own. “I mean, who really wants to work out on their own when they can work out with their friends?” She hopes teaching via Zoom will increase student participation and engagement.

Physical Activity Affects Every Aspect of Life

Jacob is looking forward to seeing his students in person, even though they won’t yet be returning to PE classes in the gym. For him, physical activity is important because it affects all other aspects of life. “If you are not physically active, it will affect everything in your life in the long run.” Plus, he points out, physical activity brings enjoyment to people of all ages. “If you watch anyone who is doing some type of physical activity, usually you’ll see them smiling or laughing.”

Celia agrees. “Physical activity is so important! It’s a lifestyle, and it improves health in so many ways. For me, walking and exercising have been huge during the pandemic to maintain my own mental health.” Since she started the Marathon Kids run club at Greenway, she says, “It’s been one of the most sought-after programs for our kids. I always have waiting lists for kids to join, and when they do get accepted, they are ecstatic! I’m so happy to provide this to all students now with the online parent input section.”

She says her Marathon Kids gain all sorts of benefits from the run club, including personal development and a strong community. “They learn they are stronger than they think, and they can push themselves more. Many of them learn that they enjoy running. I get to engage with kids in a different way than in PE. We can walk and talk about life, and I get to know kids on a personal level.”

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THE EDTECH AWARDS 2021 NAMES MARATHON KIDS CONNECT AS BEST EMERGING TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION

For Immediate Release: 4/7/2021

AUSTIN, Texas – Marathon Kids Connect has won best Cool Tools: Emerging Technology Solution in The EdTech Awards 2021.

The EdTech Awards recognize people in and around education—and the products they produce and lives they shape—for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. Established in 2010, the U.S.-based program acknowledges and celebrates the most exceptional innovators, leaders, and trendsetters in education technology.

Founded in Austin in 1995, Marathon Kids has transformed the lives of more than 2.5 million kids to date. Its mission is to get kids moving and set them on the path toward a lifetime of good health, with physical activity programming that is utilized in schools across the country, including all 81 elementary schools in Austin Independent School District.

Launched in 2020, Marathon Kids Connect is the nonprofit organization’s activity-tracking mobile app and cloud-based reporting platform. The platform makes it easier than ever for coaches, teachers, parents, and volunteers to track kids’ miles, log their active time, access free resources, and celebrate students’ progress throughout the year.

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced students to shift to remote learning, Marathon Kids Connect provided a seamless transition between school and home, enabling coaches and families to collaborate in helping kids stay active and continue hitting their physical activity milestones.

Finalists and winners for The EdTech Awards 2021 were announced to a worldwide audience of educators, technologists, students, parents, and policymakers interested in building a better future for learners and leaders in the education and workforce sectors.

“The worldwide pandemic put education and training to the test, but remote learning and working—in many unexpected ways—ultimately brought us closer,” said Victor Rivero, EdTech Digest’s editor-in-chief, who oversees the program.

Rivero credited leaders and innovators, and their tools and techniques, with keeping the learning world connected to knowledge and to each other. “After a year like no other—to all those innovators, leaders, and trendsetters in K–12, higher ed and workforce learning staying connected, productive, persistent, and getting us closer despite all challenges: We salute you.”

ABOUT EDTECH DIGEST AND THE EDTECH AWARDS

EdTech Digest, a leading source of cool tools, interviews and trends showcasing the future of learning, annually honors the best and brightest people, products and groups working in EdTech with The EdTech Awards. Cool Tool, Leadership and Trendsetter honorees span the K–12, Higher Ed and Skills & Workforce sectors.

The U.S.-based program is the largest recognition program in all of education technology, recognizing the biggest names in edtech—and those who soon will be. View a full list of this year’s The EdTech Awards finalists and winners here.

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Donte Samuel has been a Marathon Kids coach in Baltimore for 15 years. Please consider making a donation in his name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Marathon Kids Coach Makes Fitness Fun for the Whole Family

DaCoach—also known as Donte Samuel, or King Coach to his students—is the Health and Wellness Coordinator for Belmont Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. He has also coached the school’s Marathon Kids run club, the Belmont Ballers, for nearly 15 years.

DaCoach has always included his students’ families in their run club activities, since he considers health, wellness and longevity a community-wide effort. During the past year of schooling during the pandemic, staying connected with his community became both more challenging and more important than ever. Baltimore students did fully remote learning for an entire year, which meant DaCoach had to get creative to keep both students and their families engaged in their Marathon Kids activities.

Around Here, We Create Go-Getters

DaCoach has kept in touch with his students’ families through the pandemic via phone and email as well as through the Marathon Kids Connect app—the digital lap tracking and physical activity reporting platform. Belmont students returned to part-time in-person learning in Spring 2021, but they still have asynchronous-learning days, when they are responsible for completing their own lessons at home. On those days, DaCoach instructs parents to visit his YouTube channel or his Google classroom to see the activities he’s posted—”always things from Marathon Kids” that he found in the teacher resources section of the Marathon Kids website.

“I want these kids to earn their shower. Don’t sit there and watch Netflix all day, and do the bare minimum! No, no, no. Around here, we create go-getters. In order for you to be the impeccable doer that I want you to be and you deserve to be, I want you to get up and move around.”

DaCoach

He believes in the motivating power of parents being involved with their children’s health and wellness. “If your child sees that you’re invested, they’re not going to lie down or slack off. They’re going to be up and ready to go.”

Kids Run Club in Maryland

Parental Involvement Increases Student Engagement

Though it’s been a tough year for people everywhere, DaCoach’s students and their families have stayed active with Marathon Kids and kept up their healthy habits. One student, Lex, has been in DaCoach’s run club for five years. His mother credits Marathon Kids with “instilling in him the love of exercising and being healthy. He chooses better foods to eat because they study health and wellness along with completing the marathon.” (The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to run four full marathons, one mile at a time, over the course of a school year or run club season.)

Lex’s mother says he enjoys the exercise as well as getting to spend time being active with his friends and classmates. She says his Marathon Kids running has also had a positive impact on him academically. “He has learned so much, and it helps keep him focused in school.” She participates in Marathon Kids activities with her son “because it helps show him that health is important to me and it is something to continue as an adult.” She has even seen personal benefits from being active with Lex, including weight loss and a general increase in her health and wellbeing.

Helen, another Belmont parent, has three children, Helena, Haley and Holdyn, who have participated in DaCoach’s run club for three years. “They love running and exercising,” she says, “and they learn from Coach Samuel about the need to get healthy, be healthy and stay healthy by exercising and eating well.” Like Lex’s mother, Helen makes it a family affair by running with her children when they do their Marathon Kids miles.

Teana has two teenaged children who were in DaCoach’s Marathon Kids club when they were elementary students at Belmont. Malcolm is now 18 years old and Keyana is 16, and Teana sees long-lasting benefits from their time in the run club. “My daughter Keyana still loves to work out on a daily basis,” she says. “It has inspired her to want to take care of her health and her body more.” She recalls how much both her kids loved special events they experienced with their run club, such as when they traveled with DaCoach and their classmates to the White House and got to meet First Lady Michelle Obama.

Marathon Kids Is About Fun, Family and Fitness

For DaCoach, those extra-special moments stand out as well—the many high points from his years as a Marathon Kids run club coach. But it’s still the daily work of leading his students by example in creating a lifetime of good health that fires him up and keeps him engaged. “It’s just about fun, family and fitness,” he says, “and making sure that everyone is incorporated in that way.”

Dedicating himself to health and wellness took on new significance for DaCoach when he learned, well into his teaching and Marathon Kids coaching days, that he had a serious heart condition. “Since the age of ten, I was told I had asthma, but I didn’t.” He had open-heart surgery in 2014 to replace his aortic valve, and has been vegan ever since—which can be difficult in a food desert like his area of Baltimore, but continues to be rewarding.

Marathon Kids Coach

In the long run, DaCoach’s health crisis has served to deepen his commitment to making wellness a lifetime pursuit, including and beyond Marathon Kids. He also does semi-private personal training through his company, GameOn!Fitness, and teaches nutrition, yoga and guided meditation—to name just a few. He has also been the Walking Ambassador for Baltimore City since 2017. “We were challenged to do one billion steps, and we did that.” He leads by example, teaching his Marathon Kids runners and their families that a fit and active life is a fun and healthy one.

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