In the heart of Orange County, in the southeastern portion of the greater Los Angeles area, lies Columbus Tustin Middle School, where Coach Brook Brown hosts the CT Bulldogs Run Club every Thursday. This is the first year for this grant-funded Marathon Kids club. The majority of its 225 participating students, who are in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, run at lunchtime on Thursdays as well as logging miles on Marathon Mondays and during P.E. class on Mile Wednesdays.
Miss Brown, as her students call her, has long roots in the area. She attended Tustin Middle School herself some years ago, and then graduated from Tustin High School. She completed her student teaching at Tustin Middle School before being hired as the school’s girls’ P.E. teacher in 2013. As an athlete who is driven to set and accomplish goals, she wants to inspire her students to do the same.
Now finishing up her sixth year of teaching at Tustin Middle, Miss Brown heads up the CT Bulldogs Run Club with three other coaches, including Steve Dunmeyer, who was her own basketball coach back at Tustin High. “He inspired me to start this run club,” Miss Brown says, “and he has supported me every step of the way. He pushes me to be a better teacher, athlete and person.”
Her mother, Jan Brown, also comes to help out on Thursdays. “She comes out every week with her smile to encourage the kids,” says Coach Brown. “She loves being a volunteer and loves being active!”
Jan echoes her daughter’s sentiments. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” she says. “I exercise every day. It’s so important for these kids to get outside, take a break and move. We have walkers and talkers and some competitive kids who run a lot.”
Tracking Their Miles
The students keep track of how many laps they run to equal a mile. On Marathon Mondays, three laps equals a mile; at Run Club on Thursdays, five laps is a mile. The students can also count every 20 minutes’ worth of medium-to-high-intensity sports and games that they engage in as one mile.
Miss Brown has seen numerous benefits for her students since they began running with Marathon Kids. Their favorite part about Run Club is being part of a team. “They love being with their friends and making new ones,” Miss Brown says. She has seen many of the runners’ per-mile paces improve, along with their grades, self-confidence and overall attitudes. “The kids are supporting each other and applauding each other’s efforts,” she says.
Seventh-grader Franco Zavala has always been a hard worker, but since he started with Run Club, his self-confidence is higher and his grades have improved. Jamie Ibarra, also in seventh grade, shows up to the track with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. Miss Brown has noted improved leadership skills in Jamie. “She knows it’s hard work, but she still pushes herself to get in as many laps as she can!”
Miss Brown uses the app RaceSplitter to track her students’ miles. The children enter their locker numbers when they come by on Marathon Mondays, and they use tally tracking at Thursday’s run club meet-ups. They fill in their own mileage logs once a week, when Coach Brown updates them on their total miles. When the runners hit that magical 26.2 mile mark, they get to enter their names on the Hall of Fame poster outside the gym, and they are also recognized in the school announcements.
Miss Brown and the school have multiple ways of honoring the runners’ milestones and keeping the children’s morale high. She chooses a weekly Runner of the Week, for example, awarding a medal to a student who has shown effort. Eighth-grader Anthony Quintana, a recent Runner of the Week, loves to run and is always one of the first runners out on the track every Thursday. This makes him feel successful.
Miss Brown also features students on the CT Bulldogs Run Club Instagram page when they earn Runner of the Week or hit major milestones, such as completing a marathon. She accompanies their photos with encouraging captions like “Yay!” and “Awesome job!” and “Unstoppable!” The students’ smiles and looks of pride are priceless as they hold up their certificates or rewards like Nike t-shirts and shoelaces.
A Fun-Loving Coach Who Knows Kids Need To Be Kids
When the school celebrated “National Pi Day” on March 14, Miss Brown signed up to be one of the teachers at whom students were allowed to throw a pie. “Bring it!” she wrote on Instagram the day before the event.
Miss Brown understands very well that kids need to be kids. Many of these particular kids come from low-income backgrounds, and they love their Marathon Kids running club. It’s new, and it gives them time to be social as they walk or run their miles together. Some of the students help their coach set up and mark off laps. Some of them are competitive and choose to race against each other, racking up miles as quickly as they can. Others walk and talk. Some simply run the whole time, keeping a steady pace as they make progress toward their goals. Marathon Kids is about going at your own pace and challenging yourself as you cover the miles.
Many Benefits For The Students
As much technology as the CT Bulldogs Run Club has incorporated into its activities, it’s still all about getting outside onto the track and putting one foot in front of the other. Many of the runners have finished one marathon already and are well on their way toward finishing a second one. As Miss Brown’s mom Jan says, “Anything is better than staying at lunch on your device.”