Coach Julie Spelman teaches Physical Education at Baldwin Elementary in Austin, Texas. She also heads up the Baldwin Bobcats—678 student runners spanning kindergarten through fifth grade, who run laps around their school’s outdoor track every PE class as well as during lunch and recess. PE classes are on a three-day rotation; this year, Spelman is teaching virtual learners via Zoom along with face-to-face learners at school.
It’s a challenge for the in-person learners to stay six feet apart, Spelman says, and using gym equipment can be tough due to the time constraint created by having to sanitize equipment between classes. “One nice thing,” she says, “is that we can all participate in Marathon Kids! I already have a lot of parents that have registered their children. When I get a notification that they have logged miles, I go into our Marathon Kids account and approve them. The kids love to tell me how many miles they have done at home!”
At the end of each PE class, when the virtual learners log off their class Zoom, Spelman heads out to the track with her face-to-face learners, where they run laps for the last 15 minutes of class. The Baldwin track is one-fifth of a mile long, and the students typically run three to five laps at a time.
“When running gets tough for them,” Spelman says, “I always try to keep pumping them up. I tell them that they are stronger than they think, and that they can do it! I tell them to walk a little bit and then pick up the pace if they are feeling it. I also let them know that power walking is good, too! If I see they are struggling, that is a great opportunity for me to walk and talk with them. I can pick up the pace, and before they know it, they are running again!”
GROWING WITH THE PROGRAM
Spelman is long experienced with Marathon Kids, both as a coach and as a parent. Her own children participated in the program years ago, in elementary school. “We would go to the kickoff and final mile every year,” she says. “It was always so much fun!” Now that she is a Marathon Kids coach, she focuses on breaking down big, ambitious goals into smaller, achievable steps with her students.
“I let my students know what their large end goal is—four marathons throughout the school year,” Spelman says. “Then I try to have them achieve that goal one mile at a time. If they look at the big picture, then it will be overwhelming, so we just concentrate on the miles that we do each day. When they can see them add up, it makes it easier for them to achieve their big goal. When they do achieve it, they are so excited about it.”
This year, for the first time, Spelman made a set of ID scan cards for her in-person students. “The cards are all organized on our wall, which has made it so much easier to keep track of their laps. It really helps to hold students accountable, too! Teachers bring their scan cards out at recess and during WOW time. A few teachers have their students wear their scan cards in a plastic cover clipped to their shirts, which makes it very easy to scan.”
In mid-November, the school reached its first big group milestone of the season—over 1,000 miles total and counting. “It’s so exciting!” says Spelman.
MARATHON KIDS HELPS KIDS DEVELOP DETERMINATION AND HEALTHY HABITS
Coach Spelman’s students are an active group. “The majority of our students participate in afterschool activities. There are lots of soccer players that are in club, baseball, some ice hockey, lacrosse, swimming, tennis, karate.”
She teaches them about the importance of physical activity not just for physical health, but for mental health as well. “Today I had a student who was not having the best day. After we did our three laps on our track, he was smiling and talking like nothing had been bothering him. I always tell my students that in under two minutes—about how long it takes to go once around the track—they can have an attitude change!”
The lessons Spelman teaches her students in PE class and through their Marathon Kids activities, and the bond of trust they share, extend beyond the school setting. “I just had a student yesterday tell me he was going to test for his next level yellow belt,” she says. “He said he didn’t get it the first time, and he was going to try again. I asked him what happened the first time, and he told me there were a lot of people watching him and that made him very nervous. I told him this time, if there are a lot of people watching you, just pretend they are not there. Show your coach everything you know.”
Her advice worked: “Today, while we were on the track, I asked him how he did, and he said he passed. He told me he took my advice. Hearing that made my heart so happy! I told him how proud I was of him and that I knew he could do it!”
The students are also absorbing lessons about how food affects their bodies and how it can fuel their workouts. “When I have lunch duty,” Spelman says, “I secretly check out their lunches. From what I can see they are pretty healthy! We learn about Go, Slow and Whoa foods, and they always show me that they have Go foods in their lunch!”
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY HAS BOTH MENTAL AND PHYSICAL BENEFITS
Spelman is a fan of the Marathon Kids program and mission. “I have always loved the Marathon Kids program and everything it stands for. I think it is a win-win for all involved. There are so many benefits. I love that it is research-based!” For others considering getting involved with Marathon Kids or becoming a coach, Spelman says, “I would tell them to do it! It is a win-win for all! You will definitely see a difference in your students and also in yourself!”
She recalls a teacher who would send her students out to the track whenever she could see they were getting tired or distracted in class. “She always told me that when they all came back in, they were so much more refreshed and ready to learn,” Spelman says. “I always tell my students that if they are tired, I guarantee that after they do their laps, they will feel so much better. The majority of them come back smiling after!”
For Spelman, physical activity is an important part of staying healthy. “I know it helps my stress level. If I’m having a not-so-good day, I go for a jog or a bike ride and end up feeling so much better! Those are the days when I find myself doing more laps with every class. I know that if I want to prevent heart disease, which runs in my family, I need to keep exercising. There can’t be any excuses not to!”