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Canyon Pointe Elementary Students Set Big Goals and Achieve Them with Marathon Kids

By Catherine Morris

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Canyon Pointe Elementary was one of the last schools in Tomball ISD to gain an outdoor running track. When years of fundraising finally led to approval to have one built, PE teacher Amy Keene says, “I knew we needed to do something awesome with the track, so I began researching programs online.”

Tomball is a small town northwest of Houston, and Keene says the Canyon Pointe student body is diverse in multiple ways. “We have an English/Spanish bilingual program, a Structured Learning Lab for students on the Autism spectrum, and many other special populations,” she says.

She initially found a running program that seemed like a good fit for her students, so she and the other PE teachers at Canyon Pointe used it for a year. “But we quickly ran out of money trying to support the program,” she says. “Purchasing scan cards, toe tokens, and membership fees drained our budget!”

Then another teacher in the district told Keene about Marathon Kids. “Right away, I was blown away by the quality of the program and the price - it's free. We were able to quickly and efficiently upload our kids, print their running lanyards and get on the track for only the cost of the lanyards! WHATTTTT!!!”

Another plus in its favor? Marathon Kids is an evidence-based physical activity program designed to empower kids of all abilities. Keene knew it would help all of her students find their inner athlete. “This program is a perfect fit for them all,” she says. “Marathon Kids is one of the programs that does a great job of reaching our kids that wouldn’t consider themselves ‘athletic.’ These students are finding success in PE, and are excited to get out and run!”


Establishing a Running Program Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to run a total of four marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of a school year, one step and one mile at a time. The program emphasizes the importance of goal-setting and daily effort in helping kids achieve more than they ever thought possible.

As of March 2022, the 806 students in Canyon Pointe’s Marathon Kids run club have run over 9,500 miles together, and counting. It’s an impressive cumulative total, but things started off somewhat slowly as Keene and her colleagues got the club going.

“I’m not sure any of our students were excited about running,” Keene says. “Sure, we had our super-athletic kids who can run three miles without breathing heavy, but for the most part, our students still saw running as a punishment.”

She knew incentives and rewards would be key to keeping the kids motivated and engaged. “With the program we’d used before, the students had received toe tokens when they reached certain mileages. Although this was fun for them, it just wasn’t cost-effective for us as a program.”

Together, the Canyon Pointe PE teachers came up with a sticker system to reward their students at each new milestone. They purchased large sheets of vinyl and used an electronic cutting machine to cut out small circular stickers in various colors.

As a teacher, Keene feels that Marathon Kids “has been a dream program to work with. They are always evolving and do an incredible job of getting feedback from their coaches to make their program better.”

They decided three cumulative miles would be the first milestone for students to receive sticker rewards. “We set that first level low,” Keene says, “because we wanted all students to taste a little success, to have a big buy-in!” Their strategy worked: “Once our kids reached that three-mile mark and earned the first sticker for their lanyard, the excitement spread like wildfire!”

These days, the students earn sticker rewards at multiple milestones: three miles, then five, 10, 15 and 20, and then a special gold sticker at 26.2 miles—their first full marathon. The students receive more sticker rewards at 30, 35, 40 and 45 miles, and a silver sticker at 52.4 miles—their second full marathon completed.

The teachers also award what they call “specialty stickers” for special goals and occasions. “Our goal as a campus was to run 5,000 miles by winter break,” Keene says. “We called this challenge ‘The Frosty 5,000.’ Since we met our goal, each student received a snowman sticker.”

The special stickers are extra exciting, but all the stickers are treasured by the students. “They have become highly motivated to earn that next sticker,” Keene says. “We place them on their lanyards, so they get to show them off when we are on the track. It’s super fun to hear the conversations surrounding what stickers they have, and how many more laps they need to get to their next stickers. It creates healthy competition between the students and is a gentle guide for the students who need a little more motivation.”

"I want my students to know they don’t have to be the fastest, the strongest or the most coordinated to be fit. It’s not being the best, it’s about finding ways to keep your body healthy and strong for the lifetime benefits.”

Daily Physical Activity Helps Kids Meet Challenges

“This year has been tough,” Keene says. “I think we thought since the pandemic was almost over, this school year was going to be completely back to normal. Wrong! Parents are still stressed, teachers are still stressed, and as a result of this, our students were stressed as well.”

Fortunately, daily physical activity has been proven to boost mood and lower stress in people of all ages. Keene has seen this benefit in her PE students. “Getting outside on the track, in the sunshine, and getting them moving has been a game-changer. You can visibly see the stress levels reduced in them, not just from running but from the sense of accomplishment they get from reaching their goals.”

Keene played sports as a child and has always been active. Still, only recently has she truly begun to realize the impact of daily movement on her life. “During the pandemic especially,” she says, “I really started to notice the positive effects that physical activity had on my mental health.”

She says she wanted to become a PE teacher “because it was important to me to help others learn to love being physically fit and healthy. I wanted to change the stigma around PE and create a lifetime love of movement and exercise, not just sports. I want my students to know they don’t have to be the fastest, the strongest or the most coordinated to be fit. It’s not being the best, it’s about finding ways to keep your body healthy and strong for the lifetime benefits.”

Using Marathon Kids Connect to Help Kids Realize Their Potential

Keene and her colleagues try to get their students out on the track at least once a week, but it can vary. “It depends on the ever-changing Texas weather,” she says, “and other activities going on in the school.”

She and her fellow PE teachers knew they wanted every student to complete at least one mile each visit to the track. “We didn’t want to have a lap minimum when we started the program,” she says, “so we phrased it as a challenge to all our students. We tell them they are allowed to walk and chat, but they must keep moving.”

Once they realized they were capable of completing a mile—even if by walking instead of running—"they were hooked,” Keene says. “They started to challenge themselves to see how many laps they could complete in the time we gave them. We generally range between one and three miles at a time.”

Keene and her colleagues downloaded Marathon Kids Connect onto their smartphones so they can use the app to scan their students’ ID cards out on the track. Each week, they split up scanning duties to make things run quickly and efficiently.

They also use Marathon Kids Connect to run weekly reports. The cloud-based platform makes it easy to produce reports on students’ active minutes and progress over time, which Keene says her school’s administrators have appreciated.

The reports also help with student motivation. “We love keeping our students up to date on how far they have run, how far their class has run and how far our campus as a whole has run.” She says the platform is “super user friendly and easy to use” in generating impact reports and creating leaderboards.

“I put up a leaderboard that shows the top five runners for each grade level and the top five runners overall,” Keene says. “This has been a huge motivator for our students as well. We have seen our kids move from being completely unmotivated about running, to setting their own goals and crushing them! Our students are motivated and fit and have found a new appreciation for running.”

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