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Cottonwood Elementary Students Get Healthier with Marathon Kids

By Catherine Morris

For four years, Ashley Sutton hosted a kids’ running club at Cottonwood Elementary, in Tucson, Arizona, where she teaches Physical Education. But it wasn’t easy.

“I was having trouble keeping track of all the laps students were running,” she says. “I mentioned my troubles to one of my coworkers, and she said her previous school was using a free program called Marathon Kids.”

As soon as she learned more about the program, Sutton knew she wanted to start implementing it as soon as possible with her Comet’s Cruisers Mileage Club. “One of my biggest challenges as a P.E. teacher had been figuring out how to make it possible for a large group of students to run in the mornings in only a short amount of time,” she says, “while preventing lots of wait time while I wrote down their laps. Marathon Kids solved that problem!”

She got set up with Marathon Kids and started using it immediately. “Marathon Kids was exactly what I was already doing with my current mileage club, but with a super easy scanning system that made keeping track of laps so much easier and faster.”

Marathon Kids Connect Makes Tracking and Reporting on Progress Easy

The scanning system Sutton refers to is Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based platform that makes it simple and fun to track and report on kids’ active time. Teachers, parents and volunteers can use the app to scan kids’ ID cards as they run laps—no Wi-Fi needed—or to enter their active time manually.

Sutton keeps her students’ Marathon Kids ID cards organized in boxes by grade level. Each morning, when they come outside to run, the kids find their cards in their boxes and then take off. Sutton uses her phone to scan their QR codes as they run past; the app stores the information automatically.

On Fridays, Sutton uses Marathon Kids Connect to run reports on how many laps her students completed throughout the week. “I use it to present the data to the students and teachers,” she says—partly to celebrate their progress and successes, but also to motivate new students to join Comet’s Cruisers. “I have also used specific reports to give data to the school [admins] at the end of our quarter.”

“One of my biggest challenges as a P.E. teacher had been figuring out how to make it possible for a large group of students to run in the mornings in only a short amount of time,” she says, “while preventing lots of wait time while I wrote down their laps. Marathon Kids solved that problem!”


Kids’ Bodies Are Made to Move

At Cottonwood, the Comet’s Cruisers Mileage Club is offered to all 540 kindergarteners through fifth-graders. About half those students are currently active in the club, running on the track for 15 minutes each morning before class. Most students are able to get in two laps, or half a mile, during that time, Sutton says. Some complete three or four laps.

“We have 266 students who have come out at some point this year to run,” says Sutton, “with a current total of 1,109 miles” covered as of October 2021. “We have about 100 students who participate consistently, and other students who come out a couple of times a week or when they can.”

Though they aren’t all consistent with their attendance, Sutton’s students love coming out to run each morning. “In fact,” she says, “they have gotten very sad and disappointed the few times it was canceled this year. For some students, it is a great outlet and energy release before they start class. For others, they love to come out to socialize and exercise at the same time.”

Working Together, Navigating Challenges and Staying Active

Sutton credits the Cottonwood Elementary community with being very involved with Comet’s Cruisers. “Families and staff are always willing to help whenever needed,” she says. “We strive for a positive school culture where students lead, act and use their voices.” Still, she experiences certain challenges as a Physical Education teacher, including trying to keep kids healthy at school.

“So many students are bringing unhealthy snacks for snack time,” she says, though healthy snacks are required as part of the school’s wellness policy. For her part, Sutton tries to motivate her students to be physically active in a variety of ways.

“A lot of kiddos just don’t enjoy running,” she says, “so I try to find activities in P.E. class that allow them to exercise in a fun way. We play games that get students up and moving, doing movements they don’t even realize are exercises. When students leave my class sweaty, we know it was a successful day!”

The Marathon Kids program counts 20 minutes of heart-pumping activity as equivalent to running a mile. The program challenges kids to complete four marathons over the course of a season, one step at a time—and they aren’t required just to run. Kids can walk, skip or even gallop their way to their goals, and experience better mental and physical health along the way. This is part of Marathon Kids being designed for all kids, of all backgrounds and abilities.

Sutton encourages other educators to try Marathon Kids with their students. “My advice is simple,” she says: “DO IT! Marathon Kids is such an easy program to navigate, and the tools are all there for you! Using the QR codes is the best part of the program. It’s easy and efficient.”


Staying Motivated with Marathon Kids

The Marathon Kids program is structured to encourage steady progress and to highlight kids’ running milestones as they reach them in their own time. Sutton capitalizes on this and keeps her students engaged by offering them incentives throughout the year, as they reach certain milestones. Every 2.5 miles covered, for example, they receive a Fitness Finders charm to add to their necklaces. They also earn a certificate every 10 miles, a medal for running a full marathon, a tee-shirt when they hit the 1.5 marathons mark, and a trophy for completing two full marathons.

“We also use our broadcast system, morning announcements and assemblies to showcase our runners,” Sutton says, “which has also motivated new students to come out.” She also believes in the power of goal-setting and self-efficacy for keeping motivation high. “I like to have the students choose a goal they think they can accomplish and then let them be their own leaders.”

There are challenges, as with any endeavor—and there are also great rewards. Sutton recalls one of her second-graders who has been running with Comet’s Cruisers since the club started up in July. Recently, the student’s mother emailed Sutton to let her know the whole family had participated together in a virtual 5K run during the school’s autumn break.

“It was all because of my student’s interest in our mileage club,” Sutton says. “He was so excited about completing the 5K that he wanted to share his accomplishments with me. It just made my day, knowing that I am having an impact on my students as well as our Comet’s Cruisers Mileage Club, for them to live a healthy life and motivate others as well.”

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Your dollars support the future of Marathon Kids and keep our programming free and accessible to all coaches and kids. Now, more than ever, kids need the mental health benefits of regular walking and running. So help us invest in the health and wellness of kids in all of our communities by honoring our coaches!