Taylor Creek Elementary is a bright, happy school in Copperas Cove in central Texas. A little more than 500 kids and almost 50 staff are inside on a full school day. On this day in March, about half of them are running outside before school.
Smiling, Coach Kyle Black calls out to one of the kindergarteners:
“Hey, kiddo – why are you walking? You’re supposed to be running, silly!”
She grins. He can see it on the runners’ faces as they walk, jog, gallop, and sprint by; this is the best part of the day. Do we get to run today, Coach? the kids say as they enter the school, hopeful and anticipating.
It’s only the second year for the Marathon Kids program at TCE, and it’s clear that it has become part of the culture, with mileage logs and photos dotting every hallway.
“Not everyone will be a runner,” says Coach Black. “We’re not trying to create runners. But we can reach kids through running.”
Sometimes, the results are unexpected. Three or four kids have reported weight loss of 20-30 pounds since starting the program. A 5th-grade boy with a history of behavioral issues decided to join the Marathon Kids group and now it helps keep him stable. Another boy said he couldn’t run even 10 minutes a day. Several months later, he has finished three complete marathons.
Fifth grader Phoebe is in one of the military families based out of nearby Ft. Hood. Coach Black says that running gave her common ground with her dad, and now they run together. Phoebe and her friend Leah have run the most miles in the school behind Coach Black’s daughter Kelbie, who has completed an impressive 16 cumulative marathons. They typically run/walk for an average pace of 10 minutes per mile, Coach says.
At Taylor Creek, the kids attend PE class twice a week, and sometimes three times a week as the schedule alternates. Since TCE implemented the Marathon Kids program, their FitnessGram pacer test scores have noticeably improved for participating kids. In fact, the average number of laps for a student not in Marathon kids – 23. The average for his run club participants? 37 laps.
When Coach Black first heard about Marathon Kids, he showed research to his administration. To help them better understand running’s positive effects on kids, Coach Black showed them brain scans of kids before and after physical activity. Plus, he says, it helps kids be kids.
“I think team sports sometimes wears the family down instead of bringing them together,” Coach Black says.
“Our culture values people by performance. If performance is a kid’s identity and they are injured and can’t participate, then they lose their identity. The Marathon Kids program allows kids to go at their own pace. They don’t have to be perceived to be a typical ‘sports star’ to achieve and meet their goals.”
Taylor Creek Elementary uses a digital app called EZ Scan to help the kids track their miles and meet their goals. Every time students complete a lap around the big, open field, they scan the QR code on their individual cards.
The coaches collect these cards and keep them in large envelopes for the kids to pick up when they arrive before school and during their designated daily 10-minute fitness time. The simple app streamlines the process and creates a structure that minimizes effort and time from staff.
Taylor Creek is also a Healthier US Gold School. This means they are certified for enrollment in Team Nutrition, which has created healthier school environments through the promotion of nutrition and physical activity.
Students are encouraged to have a healthy breakfast before or after they run. Combined with the social and physical connection of Marathon Kids, Taylor Creek is offering a better future for the kids at their school.
“Kids can accomplish more and be healthier than they thought they could,” Coach Black says. “And that is a great thing.”