Jeremiah Bland, PE Teacher at Oakhaven Elementary in Memphis, TN, isn’t unfamiliar with challenges. He pays out of pocket for many of his PE supplies, and purchases socks and gym attire for his students. He states that as a young, third-year teacher, it’s his job to not only support his students, but to be the role model of how physical activity can improve all aspects of life.
At the beginning of the 16-17 school year, his school had zero extra-curricular activities for students, with zero budget to create these opportunities. But, like other challenges he’s faced, that didn’t stop Coach Bland. He researched and found a grant to bring Marathon Kids to his students, and submitted a proposal that highlighted the different ways in which Oakhaven Hawks would benefit from a running club on campus.
“This [grant] will open the doors for students to join the running club and inspire other teachers to start clubs at their schools.” As you can tell, Coach Bland was never simply focused on this year’s running club alone. He was determined to bring Marathon Kids to his school and use it to create change in his entire community. He’s looking at the big picture, stating that, “As a young teacher, I can work on my leadership skills and be the liaison between the school and the community.”
Coach Bland was awarded that grant, and in October 2016, the High Flying Hawks running club was born. In addition to getting kids active, the club focuses on helping members improve academically and socially. Coach Bland sets the example by seeking out growth opportunities for himself, stating that, “Each student has put me in a position where I could maximize my coaching and leadership skills and play the role of a teacher, mentor, coach, and role model.” He’s recently been chosen to attend the Marathon Kids Leadership Academy this summer, and will learn even more about utilizing his skills to empower others in his community to do the same.
The way the Hawks find a connection between their efforts during practice and in the classroom is really something special. Bland tells us that Oakhaven’s Marathon Kids running club “was faced with adversity throughout the season, performing rigorous workouts that included sprint relays, speed endurance, circuit training, strength training, and 5k runs. But the fortitude of the students led them to succeed on and off the track. Many students exemplified the role of a true student-athlete by making Honor Roll and Principal’s List throughout the school year.”
Don’t just take our word for it. Kemya, a third grader, tells us how prioritizing her attendance to running club sessions has improved her overall happiness. “I improved my grades because of the club. I use to have a couple of C’s, but now I have A’s and B’s. I formed friendships because I did not know anyone, but now I know everyone.” And Rowena, a fourth grader, highlights how she “built up [her] self-esteem and confidence” every time she tried her best at practice.
Now, as the Hawks finish up their running club season with a Finisher Celebration in May, Bland has been recollecting how this year’s Marathon Kids running club has affected his own overall happiness. “[Running club] has allowed me to sharpen my organizational and management skills. It has led me to become a motivational speaker and an inspirational leader.” He also tells us he couldn’t have done it alone. He always gives thanks to the many people that support him and his students, like his Principal, district-level support, running club volunteers, and countless others. Coach Bland knows that it takes a lot of people to create sustainable change in the community, but he’s willing to be the leader of the pack.
Bland recently sent a letter to Marathon Kids, including one from himself and notes written by his runners, about how Marathon Kids has individually affected them. He tells us that it’s important to step back and recognize when you’ve worked hard and accomplished something, whether it’s improving your 5K time or realizing that you’ve become a more supportive teammate and friend.
While Coach Bland has accomplished much this season, I learned everything I needed to know about him in the first sentence of his letter. He writes, “Life is not measured in years lived, but by how many lives you impacted.”
Have a story about how your running club has created change in your community? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.