Salk Elementary Students are Having Fun Running with Marathon Kids
By Catherine Morris
“We are so excited to have Marathon Kids at Salk,” enthuses Katie Brown, the principal of Salk Elementary School. “The students are loving it! It provides an engaging physical activity for students and encourages them to reach their goals.”
Brown is a Marathon Kids coach at Salk along with Jeff Bransford, who teaches multiple subjects at the school, including PE. Located just a few miles from Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Salk Elementary is a Title I school with a mostly Latino student body and a high percentage of English Language Learners. Many Salk students have parents who work at the theme park. “Many of our parents have to work two jobs to support their families,” Bransford says.
He learned about Marathon Kids in 2019, when a PE teacher friend recommended that he look into the program. As soon as he did, Bransford knew it would make a great addition to his PE lesson plans.
A Strong Running Community Helps Kids Lay a Foundation of Good Health
Fortunately, the running culture at Salk is strong. Bransford regularly runs 5Ks, the district superintendent runs marathons, and the district holds a 5K fundraiser each year.
“We all believe running is great exercise,” Bransford says of his fellow educators in the district. “Physical activity and a good diet are so important! Weight control, muscle and bone strength, balance... Exercise helps the brain, fights diabetes, and so much more.”
The pandemic interrupted Salk students’ lives in many profound ways. Many were not physically active during their months of remote learning at home. When they finally returned to the classroom, Bransford recalls, “we saw a noticeable difference of kids who had been in shape now being out of shape.”
Principal Brown agrees that the pandemic has been tough on the Salk community. “The students have suffered both academic and mental concerns,” she says. The school has tried to address these concerns through measures like implementing smaller classes, making counselors available to the students, and providing targeted interventions for students in need.
Marathon Kids Helps Kids Build Relationships
Marathon Kids has been a simple yet effective intervention for Salk students. The program encourages children to run, or walk, a total of four complete marathons—104.8 miles—over the course of a school year, one step and one mile at a time. Based in research that shows daily physical activity improves kids’ entire well-being, the program teaches kids about setting goals and pushing to reach them at their own pace.
Thanks to their Marathon Kids activities, Bransford says, “the students are now getting back in shape.” Covid protocols are still in place at Salk, and parents aren’t allowed on school grounds. Still, though they can’t attend running events, Bransford says his families are supportive of their students’ Marathon Kids running.
“Our families love sports,” he says. “Soccer, football, baseball. And they want their children to be healthy, and learn how to achieve a healthy lifestyle with exercise and diet.”
Currently, 272 students in second, third, fifth and sixth grades are participating in the Marathon Kids program at Salk, with more joining all the time. “Even more classrooms are signing up,” Bransford says, “because the kids asked their teachers to do so. Everyone is working together: The teachers, aides, admins and kids are all working together as they run.”
First-graders at Salk are not currently participating in Marathon Kids, says Principal Brown, “but they have incorporated a running session into their weekly physical education sessions. This will get them excited about running next year with the program.”
Marathon Kids Connect Makes Tracking and Reporting on Kids’ Active Time Fun and Simple
Once a week during PE, Bransford’s students stretch and then run for 20–30 minutes along an eighth-mile track. Since the track is outside, their running time depends on the heat. They typically complete between five and 12 laps each session, scanning their ID cards each lap through the Marathon Kids Connect app, which automatically logs their totals.
“The kids love seeing their mileage when they come back into the classroom,” says Bransford. “The teachers all put up the mileage report on our Smart Boards so the students can see it. That’s what the kids want us to do.”
Principal Brown also appreciates the simplicity and ease of the digital platform. “It allows teachers to show immediate feedback to the students after each running session,” she says, “and show progress toward goals. The Marathon Kids program motivates students to want to achieve their goals, as well as imparting to students the lifelong value of physical activity—especially running.”
Kids Find Many Benefits and Rewards in Running
“I love it all,” Bransford says of the Marathon Kids program, “especially the certificates for mileage.” He loves rewarding the students with popsicles and certificates when they complete their first five miles, wristbands at the 13.1-mile mark, and stress balls at 20 miles.
Principal Brown is in charge of rewarding students for completing their first full marathons. At a Spirit Rally on a recent Friday, she recognized the first group of students for reaching this important milestone. “They received certificates and a Marathon Kids shirt in front of 800 students,” she says. “Talk about motivation! They love earning the rewards, and it gives them self-motivation.”
At this point, however, many of the rewards are intrinsic. “Marathon Kids creates friendships,” Bransford says. “It’s a social event. If the students are having a bad day, they can walk with a friend. If they are having a good day, they like to run.”
Principal Brown also sees many benefits for the students participating in Marathon Kids. “The biggest influence to the school has been the positive, caring school community,” she says, “where students get to know other students from other classrooms. They are excited to make friends that they run or walk with in order to achieve goals together. They are working together, at their own pace, toward a common goal. The students are being physically active and are smiling together while doing it.”
Brown recalls a new student at Salk who wrote about Marathon Kids in a daily journal entry. “She shared with her class that she met her best friend while participating in the program. Being a new student can sometimes be challenging, and the program brought two new students together.”
Marathon Kids is for kids of all backgrounds and abilities, and both Bransford and Brown especially love seeing students in general education running together with students receiving special education.
“The children motivate each other,” Bransford says. “It’s great to see the kids from my class walk and run with kids from other classes, especially with students who have special needs. The kids are all learning about sportsmanship and creating friendships, and they are also learning about character, helpfulness, kindness and respect. It is something really beautiful to see.”
Make Marathon Kids Your School's Running Partner