Coach Stacey Shapiro’s First Graders Learn the Joy of Running
By Catherine Morris
Stacey Shapiro’s passion for running is as evident as her passion for her students. “As a class,” she reports in January 2022, “we have run almost 1,800 miles so far this school year! We plan on celebrating when we hit 2,000 miles. I am so proud of my students!”
Shapiro is no stranger to running, teaching, or Marathon Kids. A first-grade teacher at Zilker Elementary in Austin, Texas, she has been a Marathon Kids coach since she taught her very first class 24 years ago. She is also an avid and accomplished runner, and a running coach for adults. She has completed numerous marathons and half-marathons as well as triathlons and even a half-IRONMAN race.
Bringing her love of running to her students is rewarding for Shapiro. That’s what drew her to Marathon Kids so many years ago: “I thought it was a wonderful way to get my students active and work toward a goal. Over the years, the determination and joy my students have exhibited when reaching their goals keeps me returning to Marathon Kids.”
Shapiro decided to take her involvement a step further in 2019 by becoming a Marathon Kids Ambassador. “I loved learning more about how I can make an impact in the lives of my students,” she says. “I was also able to share that, as a classroom teacher, you can make an impact on healthy lifestyles and the physical activity of your students.”
Running Helps Kids Focus Better and Learn More
Zilker Elementary is a small neighborhood school with a very involved community. Shapiro’s class this year consists of 18 students who come from varying backgrounds and—especially due to the pandemic—varying school experiences.
One of Shapiro’s current students had never been in a classroom before joining her class this fall. Another is brand-new to public school. Some of her students attended at least part of kindergarten in person last year, while others remained virtual all year. All of her students are new this year to Marathon Kids.
And they are loving it. “We go out for 20 minutes each day for WOW time,” Shapiro says, “and many students choose to run one or more laps during recess. They thrive on setting goals as to how many laps they will run each day and when they will achieve their next milestone.”
Shapiro sets up an iPad on a crate near the track, and the students scan their QR codes through the Marathon Kids Connect app after each lap they complete. All of her students walk or run at least half a mile a day during WOW time. Those who also choose to run at recess typically cover a total of one to three miles a day.
WOW stands for Working Out for Wellness, a district-wide initiative implemented to help Austin ISD students meet their daily required minutes of physical activity. Programs like Marathon Kids help educators get their kids moving both in and outside of PE class, but meeting state standards is only one benefit. Daily physical activity also offers kids myriad other benefits, including improved mood, focus, confidence and academic performance.
Shapiro sees all of these in her students. “Having time to teach everything is quite a challenge,” she says, “but carving time each day for physical activity is necessary. Encouraging physical activity at a young age will help kids build confidence, routines and healthy habits that will last a lifetime. And when we exercise our bodies, it helps our brains get ready to learn. It helps get the wiggles out, so students can focus more in the classroom.”
Running Together Helps Kids Build Social Skills
Marathon Kids has supported Shapiro’s teaching and her students in multiple ways. “Marathon Kids goes hand in hand with the district health lessons that I have been teaching each nine weeks,” she says. “Students have learned about Go, Slow and Whoa foods, and Go activities. They get excited when we make the connections to their lives with what we have been learning in class. Marathon Kids promotes Go activities, and being active at home and in class.”
Marathon Kids also gives Shapiro’s students a chance to be social with each other outdoors, which is helping to mitigate challenges posed by the pandemic, social distancing and remote learning. “Many of my students were isolated at home last year, or had significantly fewer students in their classes,” Shapiro says, “so social skills were a challenge at the beginning of this year. While they are walking or running on the track, they are engaged in great conversations, making plans to get together outside of school, and just having fun.”
Shapiro benefits from the unstructured social time, too. “When I am walking with my students, it gives me a chance to chat informally with each child and follow up with things they had mentioned earlier. It helps me build a connection with each of them. I really treasure this time.”
"The determination and joy my students exhibit when reaching their goals keeps me returning to Marathon Kids.”
Marathon Kids Benefits Kids and Educators, Too
Shapiro says Marathon Kids has many benefits for educators and students alike. “It is so easy to set up,” she says, “and it helps students become self-sufficient and motivated. It also gives teachers a chance to be out there moving with the students!”
Motivation is key to making regular physical activity a habit. Shapiro has found simple ways to keep kids engaged and excited to continue striving toward their goals. “I started off the year by giving each of them a ‘Training Badge’ keychain for their backpacks,” she says. “When they were working toward their first marathon, we celebrated every five miles by adding a sparkly ‘foot’ on their key chain. We also celebrate milestones like 13.1 miles (a half marathon) and 26.2 miles (a full marathon).”
Her students also earn Marathon Kids stickers every time they complete a full marathon, which they can add to their QR code badges to show off their accomplishments. “Just adding a little ‘foot’ is so motivating to my students,” Shapiro says. “Parents know to look on their key chains on Fridays to see if they have earned their next milestone.”
She also uses the Marathon Kids Connect app to print out reports each week in class, so her students can see their progress and know how many laps they need to reach their goals. “I ask them throughout the week, ‘What’s your goal today? How many laps do you want to run?’ That is a huge motivator to them, too.”
On Fridays, she goes over her students’ total mileage with them. “We celebrate anyone who has reached a milestone. We talk about how many more miles they need to reach their next milestone. Then I print out and hang up the Runner’s Mileage totals so students can refer back to it while they set goals for the upcoming week.”
Shapiro loves that Marathon Kids “is helping instill a healthy lifestyle, a joy of running and a sense of goal setting” in her students. “We are so thankful to be a part of this amazing organization!”
Make Marathon Kids Your School's Running Partner