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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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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.

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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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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.

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At Marathon Kids, we’re all about getting kids moving, both in school and at home. So, we were thrilled to partner with Austin Active Kids on a guide full of active camp experiences, from virtual and at-home options to outdoor adventures in Central Texas.

If you are looking for fun camps and ideas to get the kids moving during spring break and summer, check out the Austin Active Kids Camp Guide presented by Camp Champions by clicking on the image below!

Austin Active Kids Camp Guide

All ads in these guides benefit Marathon Kids, putting more kids on the path to a healthy and active life! If you’re interested in advertising in one of the upcoming guides, please email hello@austinactivekids.com or visit the website’s Advertising page for more information.

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Carolyn Dyer has been supporting Marathon Kids since the beginning. Please consider making a donation in her name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Carolyn Dyer had been teaching Physical Education for 22 years and had just recently moved back to Austin when she met up with her friend Kay Morris in 1995. Morris told Dyer about her dream of having elementary children complete a marathon—not all at once, but in small increments and over a period of time.

“Kay asked me, ‘Do you think we could facilitate it through the PE teachers?’” Dyer says. “I told her I could take it to them and explain her ideas, and everyone of course jumped on it.” Almost just like that, Marathon Kids was born.

Dyer has many fond memories from the next decade-plus, when she led run clubs, facilitated larger Marathon Kids events and helped to shape the organization into what it is today.

She remembers Lance Armstrong coming out to lead the student runners on his bike at one of the early Marathon Kids events at Auditorium Shores. “I’ve never forgotten this,” says Dyer. “I was up at the starting line, and it was fifth grade running first, and we had a mile marked off. Lance wasn’t but ten feet in front of the group. We said, ‘Lance, you’ve got to get further out.’ Sure enough, soon as the gun went off, those fifth-graders were racing. They took off, and he was pedaling for his life!”

In those early months and years of the organization, Dyer says, Austin-area PE teachers learned how to manage their Marathon Kids run clubs and the organization’s larger events through trial and error. And she credits Marathon Kids founder Kay Morris with the creative vision that brought it all to life. “Kay came up with brilliant ideas. The kids could go and earn a free tee-shirt, and they didn’t have to pay a penny to be a part of this. Kay always had a good MC to keep the ball rolling at events, and balloons at the finish line, everything decorated so nice.”

Marathon Kids Has Always Been a Community Effort

Morris involved the local Austin community from the start, which Dyer sees as a key strategy that cemented the organization’s success. “Kay would get donations from companies, and RunTex was always a big donor. She’d have the Austin SWAT team come run with the kids. Governor Rick Perry came one time and asked if he could hand out the tee-shirts.”

Dyer remembers one particular event in autumn at the Toney Burger Center. “Kay knew everybody—she had connections. Next thing I know, she tells us ‘Oh, by the way, H-E-B is delivering some pumpkins, so we can put some out along the course.’ Well, it wasn’t a few pumpkins—it was a couple of hundred or more! So we decided to outline the infield, the whole way around. The H-E-B truck was there, and they drove around with all the pumpkins and a guy in the back. He would toss them out, and Kay and I would catch them and put them out.”

H-E-B is the Official Grocer of Marathon Kids and has partnered with Marathon Kids since 2006 and granted a cumulative total of $1 million over the years. In May 2020, at the company’s annual Excellence in Education Awards, H-E-B gave out more than $430,000 in grants and cash awards to educators, school districts and other recipients across the state of Texas, as part of its Texans Helping Texans program.

Marathon Kids Helps Grown-Ups Follow Healthy Lifestyles, Too

Another fond memory of Dyer’s is from the first big Marathon Kids event held in Harlingen, 20 years ago. “When we came back the following spring [for the finishers’ celebration event], there was a principal from one of the elementary schools who was so excited. She said, ‘I have to tell you all, I’ve lost 25 pounds.’ She’d had her husband mark off a mile for her at their place, and every day she’d go out and do her mile or two miles. So we were reaching more than just kids. Kay’s objective was always more than just the kids; she wanted kids and families doing it together.”

Dyer believes the vast community support of Marathon Kids was partly due to its founder’s energy, vision, and connections, but even more than that, she believes it was the strength of the program itself that drew people in. “At that time there really wasn’t anything [as far as run clubs or running events] for elementary-aged kids, third grade and below. Some kids were running or walking with their parents at a young age, but most weren’t. Many of the schools we were in were lower-income schools, where the parents were working to make ends meet.”

It was exciting when the students’ families got involved, Dyer says. “It’s exciting to come to a track and see all the decorations and balloons and everything, so more parents would start taking part, and grandparents sometimes. Some would come to the kickoff and do a lap around the track with their kids.”

Following Life’s Winding Lead, and Staying Healthy Along the Way

Dyer was not a runner when she was younger, nor did she plan on becoming a PE teacher. She completed two years of college at the University of Texas at Austin as a premed student. Then a connection with a physical therapist who worked with children led Dyer to decide to become a physical therapist as well.

“I went back to UT, and had to major in PE to get my physical therapy degree. I wasn’t going to be a teacher, but I fell in love with it.” She wound up teaching PE in Texas public schools for 34 years, including Gullett, Winn, Odom, Pleasant Hill and Rodriguez Elementary Schools in Austin ISD, before retiring in 2007.

“My love has always been with younger kids and teaching basic movements—how to skip and how to jump and how to throw a ball, how to fall down, how to walk with good posture,” Dyer says. “Now, kids are sitting at computers all day at home. Get some bean bags on their heads, walk a line, they’ll learn to keep their head up and shoulders back.”

Just as she hadn’t planned a career in teaching PE, Dyer didn’t plan to retire when she did, until her son offered her an Alaskan cruise as a retirement gift when she turned 65. She has stayed active in the years since, including walking with a neighbor friend almost every morning; together they average nearly 20 miles a week.

Movement Is the Key

Physical activity is important to Dyer because “it’s important to everybody. Walking is one of the cheapest and healthiest activities to move. You can walk fast, at your own pace, with a walker, with a cane, but you’re physically moving.”

She points out that modern, sedentary lifestyles make regular physical activity even more important than ever before. “In today’s world, kids are sitting at computers for hours—and it’s not just kids. Adults of all ages have so many health issues because they don’t get out and move. My neighbor that I walk with every day has survived breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. Her oncologist said it was because she’d kept in such good shape with walking every day. You don’t have to be a runner or a jogger or a swimmer or a bike rider. If you can only walk, just get out and do it. The key is movement.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider a donation to Carolyn’s 25th-anniversary fundraiser.

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By Jennifer Fisher, thefitfork.com on behalf of Beef Loving Texans.

Gathering together as a family to share a meal and bond over life’s ups and downs has become rare.

In fact, according to a 2013 Harris poll, only 30 percent of American families share dinner every night. Schedules overflowing with school, work, and extra-curricular obligations are understandably responsible, life is crazy. But, let’s admit it, even when parents and kids have the chance to gather for mealtime, our electronic devices often have a seat at the table.

Family mealtime is not only an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal together, it’s a time to make lasting memories that your children won’t forget. 

Regular family meals are also linked to higher grades and self-esteem, healthier eating habits and less risky behavior. Plus, as parents, we get to spend more time enjoying the biggest “projects” we’ve taken on in life and, I think you’d agree, that’s winning the ultimate game!

So, hit the pause button and implement one or all of these tips to make your family dinner table the place to be!  

1. Be Present:

Dinner time could be the only quality time you spend with your family, so take family dinners to the next level by making a point to be present. Enjoy meals together electronic device free.  After all, numerous studies show that home-cooked meals nourish the spirit, brain, and health of all family members. 

2. Schedule It:

It seems contradictory to suggest adding another entry to an already packed calendar when trying to slow down and enjoy family dinner time. However, by marking a set day (or days!), everyone can anticipate the event and plan accordingly. This is especially important when kids become teenagers with their own social schedules. When things get really hectic, think outside the dinner hour and make Sunday brunch or Saturday lunch the big event.

3. Simplify It:

Family dinners do not have to be “fancy-schmancy.” I’ve found that quick, easy, kid-friendly meals are not only less stressful to prepare, but also casual and comforting meals that the whole family will enjoy. Here are some of our 30-minute favorites with beef:

Beef Picadillo Tacos

Beef Fajita Soup

Szechuan Beef Stir Fry

Mexican Beef Breakfast Nachos

4.  Share the Work:

Involve the whole family in making dinner by divvying up the tasks from planning, shopping, and prep to serving and clean-up – age appropriately, of course. For example, little ones can set the table while older children can make a salad or put dishes in the dishwasher afterward. Show ‘tweens and teens various cooking methods and how to plan a balanced meal, budget, and shop. This not only brings the family together for more quality time, but also teaches and empowers children with new life skills.    

5. Make it Fun: 

Family dinner night isn’t just about eating, it’s about connecting and making memories. Get creative and host a theme night, based on a specific cuisine like a Taco Tuesday or Spaghetti night. Give kids free reign to decorate, select background music, and come up with a game for the table. 


Any fact or research noted in this blog post came from the National Family Meals Month™ toolkit. See all supporting research.

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Due to COVID-19, many people have started inviting family and friends to play virtual games. Technology has paved a new path to socializing, teaching, communicating, and learning. The ability to video chat on platforms like Zoom allows not only for family and friends to connect but the video chat function also allows teachers and students to transition from traditional classroom learning to remote learning from home as needed.

It is important to keep students engaged during virtual classroom sessions. Many teachers have discovered that taking a break from schoolwork and playing an interactive game supports and strengthens student engagement. The share screen function of the Zoom platform gives the option to teachers to enhance and simplify the learning experience too.

Here are some of our favorite warmup, active, cool down, and calm interactive games to play on Zoom that teachers can play with students. Our Zoom game suggestions are fun, brainy, and have the ability to sharpen kids’ physical and mental skills.

Best Warmup Games to Play on Zoom

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Choose a student to be the leader. Have the leader model their favorite warm-up activities that will get the class moving. Students will copy the leader until it’s the next leader’s turn.

RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT

Choose an action for students to copy. When the teacher says “green,” students should repeat the action as fast as they can. When the teacher says, “yellow,” slow the action down. On red, stop. Mix up the colors and actions as much as you’d like.

OBSTACLE COURSE

Instruct students to create a simple obstacle course, either indoors or out. Ideas include zigzagging between furniture, hopping over imaginary lines, etc. Invite them to share their obstacles with the class, demonstrating how to complete the course.

Best Active Games to Play on Zoom with Kids

Freeze Game

Let your students stretch their legs and dance to some fun, upbeat tunes. Encourage students to show off their dance moves. When the music stops, everyone has to stop dancing.

Scavenger Hunt

At-home scavenger hunts are fun! Here’s how they work. The teacher will announce a household item that the students need to find. Give the students a goal time limit to find their item and return to show the class. Here are a few items we suggest: TV remote, spoon, something blue, something soft, pair of socks, etc.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Classic game, but with a twist! The object of this version is not to win, but to see how many rounds students can stay in the game versus the teacher. To get kids moving, assign an action to the winner of each round. For example, if you win, the class “gets” to do ten jumping jacks!

Best Cool-Down Games to Play on Zoom

WINDSTORM

Pretend to be trees in a windstorm, with wind blowing arms as branches. Start while the windstorm is strong and blowing hard, and finish as the wind calms and blows softer.

SHARKS AND FISH

One student is the shark and the rest are fish. Sharks demonstrate their favorite cool-down activities while the group copies their actions. Whatever the shark does, the fish have to copy. Remember to stretch gently and slowly (like fish swimming).

MUSCLE MIX

Like Twister, but standing up. The teacher or leader calls out to body parts to touch together. For example, elbow to knee or hand to foot. Continue the game until the class has settled and is ready to focus on a calm game.

Best Calm, Interactive Games to Play on Zoom with Kids

I Spy

I Spy is a classic game, but also a great one to play to work on adjectives and to test your students’ observation skills. Students can take turns guessing what the object is that you describe. As the teacher, you say: “I spy something *insert adjective*.” Play as many rounds as you see fit.

Trivia

A short game of trivia can be a great way to start the day. Each week you can identify a theme or a category to challenge your students to trivia questions. We recommend using the “raise my hand” function on Zoom to allow for fair play. Throughout the semester you can keep a tally and leaderboard for the students.

Show and Tell

Give your students the opportunity to share something from home. Show and Tell could be a fun way to end the school week. You can pick one student for each week. The game Show and Tell could be a good way for students to develop and improve their social and speaking skills.

Mystery Bag

Give your students one clue about what you put in a bag. For instance, “The object is *insert adjective.*” You can give a couple of students the chance to guess. If no one gets it correct, give another clue. It could be interesting to choose the item based on a topic or lesson you are reviewing that day or week.

Story Time

All young students need a good read-aloud every single day. Zoom makes it easy. Make yourself, as the host, take up the full screen so the students can see the pictures easily. Note: The words will appear backward on your side but rest assured they are not backward from your students’ screens.

Directed Drawings

Kids love directed drawings. Art Hub for Kids on YouTube is a great option. Share your screen while the students make their own drawing. When the drawing is finished, each student can take turns showing their drawing to the class. Extend this project by assigning it as a writing activity to complete at home and bring back to the next Zoom call to read aloud.

Quick Draw

Looking for a drawing activity that is a faster pace than Directed Drawing? Quick Draw could be your answer! Quick Draw is a Pictionary style game, but the timer for making a drawing is very short, only 10 seconds. This would help the students to sharpen their brain as they need to think about the perfect hint to draw so that the teammate can guess the clue. The questions can be related to studies as well.

20 Questions

Think of an object. Let students ask a YES or NO question. Students will have to continue asking these types of questions. A student may guess at any time by clicking on the “raise my hand” button in the Zoom settings.

Would You Rather

Ask your students a “would you rather” question with two choices and kids must choose between the options. Pick two students to share the reasoning behind their preference. The game, Would You Rather, will be a good game to show kids that their peers might not like the same things, and it is okay to have your own opinion.

Guess Where

This will be a good game to play with older students. To play the Guess Where game, teachers will have to utilize the screen share function of Zoom. On your screen, pull up geoguesser.com. GeoGuesser is a geography game that takes you on a journey around the world and challenges your ability to recognize your surroundings. This is a fun game to challenge your students’ geography knowledge.

Logo Quiz

Logo quiz is a fun game which can be played with older students. It is a trivia game on different kinds of common logos. The teacher shares their screen to pull up multiple logos to quiz their students. The student who guesses the maximum number of correct logos wins. You can show the answers by writing them in a notepad and then all can show the notebook together towards the screen.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

This is a type of game that the kids love to play. Type, “are you smarter than a 5th grader questions” on Google and find random questions. Write the answers on a notepad and give your students 10 seconds to write their answers. When time is called have all your students show what they wrote to the screen.

Crossword Puzzles

For older and younger students, crossword puzzles make for a brilliant mind game. Share your screen and pull up a crossword puzzle. You can set a timer for so many minutes and each student can write on a notepad the words that stand out to them. When time is over, the teacher can call on different students to solve.

About Marathon Kids

At Marathon Kids, we offer free physical activity programming, resources, and hands-free technology to support educators as they strive to keep students active in school and at home. Learn more about getting kids moving during the school day with Marathon Kids Connect—it’s free!