Middle-Schoolers at Young Women’s Leadership Academy Set Healthy Foundations for Life

Kristi Seybert, a PE, Health/Wellness and Athletics teacher at Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Midland, Texas, was first introduced to Marathon Kids at a physical education conference in 2018. “I had always wanted to start a running club, and when I learned about Marathon Kids, I was very interested.”

She was also drawn to Marathon Kids for its grant opportunities. Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), which opened in fall 2019, will eventually expand to become a sixth- through 12th-grade campus, but it currently serves girls in sixth and seventh grades from diverse backgrounds. Coach Seybert knew funding would be key in starting a run club for her students.

The run club at YWLA, called Sole Sisters, is sponsored by popular Texas grocery store chain H-E-B. There are currently 162 students enrolled at YWLA, and every student participates in Sole Sisters at some level. Most run on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, typically covering from one to three miles at a time.

YWLA is a Midland ISD school of choice focusing on college preparatory academics, leadership development through community service, and health and wellness, and all students are required to take a Health & Wellness class each semester. “During these classes,” says Coach Seybert, “students also have the opportunity to earn mileage on certain days. With both of these opportunities, we have one hundred percent of students participating.”

Keeping Students Motivated And Engaged

Coach Seybert logs all her students’ miles and keeps records of the milestones they reach. “Our students really enjoy running, and I love providing the opportunity for students that do not come from a fitness background.” She hosts two run club challenges to tap into her students’ natural competitive sides and keep them engaged. “One of the challenges is Sixth Graders versus Seventh Graders, and we keep track of their total miles. The second contest is between homeroom classes. We have a thermometer-style meter for each homeroom, and we add miles each day and keep track of the class that is in the lead.”

Another way in which she keeps students’ morale high is by displaying their names and photos on a poster hung in the gym when they complete their first marathons. Students at YWLA wear uniforms, but when they reach big milestones, Coach Seybert encourages them to wear their Marathon Kids shirts to school to show off their achievements.

The Importance Of Physical Activity For Children

Coach Seybert believes physical activity is a vital part of children's development because it lays the foundation for a healthy and active life. “Learning and understanding the benefits of exercise helps to promote healthy growth and development,” she says. “This type of activity will help children to achieve and maintain healthy weight, and build strong bones and muscles.”

The most important change she has seen in her students since the start of the run club season? “Their increased self-confidence. Running a marathon is such a huge task, but when we break it down, it’s not so overwhelming.” The Marathon Kids program is structured to scaffold children’s running over time, with student runners attempting to cover four full marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of the run club season, one mile at a time. “This helps students set a goal and reach it,” says Coach Seybert.

For other physical educators who are interested in starting a run club or are simply looking for new ways to challenge their students and themselves, she offers this: “I would ask that every Physical Education Teacher give Marathon Kids a try. It is easy to do, and the support is amazing.”