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Here at Marathon Kids, we know that active kids do better. We also know that kids who are able to listen, communicate, and problem-solve are better equipped to succeed in school and in life. These are all skills they need to navigate the world around them.

Using the pillars of the Marathon Kids program, many of our coaches are using their running clubs not only for physical activity, but also to prime their kids’ brains, to encourage them to build relationships, and to help their runners unlock the key concepts of social emotional learning.

Core Social Emotional Learning Competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, is on mission to help make evidence-based social emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of the school day, from Pre-K to high school. CASEL’s five competencies are embedded in SEL curriculum and help a child succeed in their personal and relationship skills. More importantly, these five competencies help educate hearts, inspire minds, and help students navigate the world more effectively.  Schools and youth organizations across the nation are now increasingly implementing social emotional learning into a student’s day.

The five competencies are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.

CASEL

What is Social Emotional Learning?

SEL is more than a program or a lesson. It’s a process through which children and adults learn how to:

✓ Understand and manage emotions

✓ Set and achieve positive goals

✓ Feel and show empathy for others

✓ Maintain positive relationships

✓ Make responsible decisions

It is about how teaching and learning happen, as well as what you teach and where you learn.

Through SEL curriculum, kids learn positive self-talk, problem-solving skills, and how to build relationships with others. They start to recognize that everyone is unique, that listening to understand can help resolve misunderstandings, and that people sometimes interpret information or experiences differently. And that’s okay!

Social Emotional Learning SEL

Learning Soft Skills

While technology can make our lives easier, it can also cause children to spend less time communicating face to face, to have difficulty expressing how they feel in appropriate ways, and to need guidance in navigating relationships with others.

Soft skills—which are needed to effectively communicate, problem-solve, collaborate, and organize—are becoming increasingly important for success later in life. Recruiters and employment experts have started reporting a “soft skills gap,” especially among young workers more accustomed to texting than talking. Some employers are expressing frustration that while they can teach employees a new skill, they can’t teach them how to communicate, listen, or get along with others.

Social emotional learning plays an integral key role in helping students achieve both academically and interpersonally.  The world needs more critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and well-balanced, relationship-building humans to face new challenges and demands.

Marathon Kids + Social Emotional Health

Through running, we show kids they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. And, the success kids find in setting goals and tracking their progress at running club trickles down to other parts of their lives as well. When kids have higher self-confidence, they are more willing to break out of their shell, try new things, and persevere when things get tough.

Not only are Marathon Kids participants reaping the benefits of physical activity and building endurance, but they are also learning the importance of goal-setting, determination, and relationship-building.

Let’s take a look from a high-level perspective at how the Marathon Kids program connects with CASEL’s five competencies:

Through stories we’ve collected, we know our simple, fun, and effective running clubs create a space for so much more to happen than just conquering laps. Kids are self-evaluating and reflecting on their performance. Some kids who aren’t involved in sports feel like they are athletes—possibly for the first time—and that they are part of a team. Running club becomes a social outlet to create community and spark friendships with a diverse group of peers.

“It felt great to have my teammates cheer me through the spirit tunnel.”

Social Emotional Learning SEL

What’s next?

Whether you are a teacher, coach, parent, principal, administrator, or volunteer, we want to help you incorporate physical activity into your school’s schedule. There’s power in movement. Use it to ignite and regulate kids’ brains, build relationships, and create well-balanced kids who are ready to navigate the world around them. The Marathon Kids program can be integrated into SEL curriculum, brain breaks, and your school culture. Click here to learn how to build social emotional learning skills through physical activity by watching one of our virtual training videos.

“I believe Marathon Kids will help improve kids’ lives socially and emotionally, which will lead to their success in the classroom.”Marathon Kids coach Rene Hernandez

For more information about our free program and training opportunities, including a social emotional learning module, please contact us at info@marathonkids.org.

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking.

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The Ambassador School of Global Education Running Club is grant-funded, thanks to the generous support of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

Patricia Andrade sees running and Marathon Kids as “a sport and program in which all students can be successful.”

That’s important to her, as an elementary school teacher and Marathon Kids run club coach at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Koreatown, a small, diverse neighborhood in central Los Angeles. “We have a very diverse school community, and that is reflected in our running club as well.”

Ms. Andrade inherited her run club when a former colleague moved on to another school, leaving the club to her, along with a great legacy. “She is an avid runner,” Ms. Andrade says of her former colleague, “and was a great motivator and example for our students, so I knew I had to continue that. Our students don’t have access to a lot of green space in their community, or to organized sports. This was a great opportunity to continue providing this sport and space to our students, and to make this a yearly program and club for them to participate in.”

Their run club’s official name is Ambassadors Who Run, but Ms. Andrade and her students refer to it simply as Running Club. There are currently 140 students and 26 parents registered—the club’s highest-ever participation in each category. The students, who range from kindergarten to fifth grade, meet after school every Thursday and Friday to run for an hour on the track and field. Everyone warms up together and takes plenty of walking and water breaks; still, many students manage to cover three miles during their hour together.

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

Motivating Others To Live A Healthier Life

In early autumn, they’ve just started up Running Club again for the school year, so the students are working on developing their endurance and stamina after the summer break. “They definitely get tired,” Ms. Andrade says, “but they end up motivating each other, and they love seeing adults, the teachers and parents, running with them.”

Ms. Andrade loves Running Club in part because it provides a change of pace from teaching in the classroom. “Being a coach gives me the opportunity to take off my teacher hat for a bit and motivate students to make better choices with their health. Physical activity and Marathon Kids give us the opportunity to instill healthy habits in our students, to help them feel better about themselves, and to teach them to make this a lifestyle for the rest of their lives.”

There’s plenty of overlap between coaching and teaching, of course. Ms. Andrade can tell her Run Club students are taking her message to heart when she hears them say things like, “I brought my water bottle, my running shoes, my hat, my sunscreen…” She says, “All of these are indicators that they are listening to our tips and creating healthier lifestyles for themselves. Running club becomes part of their school experience and ultimately their lifestyle.”

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

When The Running Gets Tough, The Runners Keep Going—After A Short Break

“The students love running and socializing on the track,” says Ms. Andrade. “Something about completing their laps, miles and marathons motivates them to keep going around the track and keep coming back every week.”

Still, every runner faces challenges from time to time. “The students definitely get tired, especially right now, when our L.A. days are still very warm. A few months into running club, there are usually a few students who will stop coming because it gets too hard, and completing marathons is no easy task.”

When students stop showing up, Ms. Andrade follows up with them. “I do individual check-ins with students at recess and lunch if I haven’t seen them in a while, to see if everything is okay and to motivate them to keep running, keep pushing and keep achieving those miles.”

The teachers also serve as cheerleaders out on the track. “We have a megaphone and we’ll walk or run in the opposite direction as the students, motivating them to keep going. We give them time reminders so they are aware when 15 minutes are left, ten, five and so forth, so they know there is an end and they can achieve laps within those time frames.”

They always encourage breaks—and then getting back on the track. “If it gets too tough, they can take a break from running for a few minutes. We remind students to stay hydrated and walk whenever needed. But we always get them back up and going again soon so they can complete their laps.”

Milestones And Rewards Keep The Runners Motivated

“Throughout the running season,” Ms. Andrade says, “we award our runners at our monthly school assemblies. We take the opportunity to showcase them as they complete their marathons, and they love getting to show off their Nike swag. The recognition and rewards help those who have fallen off to come back and restart their running journeys.”

The runners are also motivated by seeing their run club goals and mileage logs displayed prominently in the office. “They get to see their names as they complete their marathons,” Ms. Andrade says, “which is another great incentive and motivator.”

Run Club Is Good For Grown-Ups, Too

Physical activity is important to Ms. Andrade “because it keeps me healthy and ultimately sane. I was athletic in high school, and played volleyball and soccer all four years. I didn’t play sports in college, but kept going to the gym. Then adulthood happened. Stress is real, and it affects many aspects of one’s life. After a few years of failed gym memberships, I rediscovered a love for physical activity through CrossFit, and that has kept me healthy, but more importantly both physically and mentally strong.”

Coaching her school’s run club has helped her further develop her fitness. “I never considered myself a runner and have always struggled at it; long-distance running is mentally difficult. Running Club and CrossFit have changed that perspective now that I run with my students.”

Now she makes it a point to participate in local 5Ks along with some of her top Marathon Kids runners. “I challenged myself to run with them. It’s a great accomplishment and feeling even if it’s just three miles, because I challenge myself to keep my time or beat it every year. It is also an example to my students that size doesn’t matter. I may not look fit to the average eye, but when I exercise with my students and show them my progress at CrossFit or finish that 5K, they see that a healthy lifestyle can be carried in all shapes and sizes.”

She re-emphasizes the mind–body connection. “Did I mention it helps A LOT with my mental health? This teaching thing is no easy job!”

Los Angeles Run Club for Kids

Physical Activity Improves All Aspects Of Life

Ms. Andrade’s students are English Language Learners who are participating in the school’s Spanish Bilingual Maintenance program. She sees benefits from Running Club that extend not only to her students’ physical health and fitness, but also to their moods and academics. “Academic growth is directly connected to a well-balanced social-emotional and overall physical health. Our students love running club, and we start noticing trends throughout the year for those students who participate. Our students tend to get recognized in other areas besides running club, and also tend to receive certificates in achievement areas such as citizenship or academic improvement. I get updates from teachers that behavior in the classroom starts improving as well, and that kids are happier looking forward to their running days.”

The benefits of daily physical activity also extend to the students’ home lives. “Parents talk about how their children start sleeping better, start drinking more water, start making better food choices and want to continue running on their own time because it becomes routine.” Ms. Andrade says the most important thing for her is that “every child that joins our running club becomes a winner and achieves. They all get recognized and awarded for their effort; they wear their Marathon Kids shirts with pride, because they know they belong to something.”

Running Club enables kids of all kinds to come together and connect. “Academic ability, special education classification, language or learning labels—these don’t matter in running club. It is truly an equal playing field for all. Students start making friends with students from other grade levels and programs. It is also common for the older kids to become mentors to the younger kids and motivate them to keep running. You see lots of older students holding hands with the younger kids to help them keep going. It’s cute to see!”

Advice For Other Marathon Kids Run Club Coaches

One of Ms. Andrade’s biggest pieces of advice for anyone wanting to start a Marathons Kids club or become a coach is to get help from colleagues, parents or other community members. “Marathon Kids is a great program with lots of benefits, but it does require work, organization and structure. A support team, or even just one other person, can help with all the details, from scanning laps to motivating runners and advertising the club.” She shares coaching duties, including mileage tracking, with parents and other teachers. They all downloaded the Marathon Kids app so anyone can scan the runners’ ID card as they complete their laps around the track.

But the most important thing of all, she says, is this: “Run or walk with your students, and have fun!”

Her students frequently express their love for Running Club. “Our schedule is the same every week, yet I always get asked if there will be Running Club on Thursday and Friday. They tell me, ‘I’ll see you there!’” That love—of running, and of the community they have built together—is mutual. “What can I say? I love Running Club as much as my students!”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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In the heart of Orange County, in the southeastern portion of the greater Los Angeles area, lies Columbus Tustin Middle School, where Coach Brook Brown hosts the CT Bulldogs Run Club every Thursday. This is the first year for this grant-funded Marathon Kids club. The majority of its 225 participating students, who are in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, run at lunchtime on Thursdays as well as logging miles on Marathon Mondays and during P.E. class on Mile Wednesdays.

Middle School Run Club

Miss Brown, as her students call her, has long roots in the area. She attended Tustin Middle School herself some years ago, and then graduated from Tustin High School. She completed her student teaching at Tustin Middle School before being hired as the school’s girls’ P.E. teacher in 2013. As an athlete who is driven to set and accomplish goals, she wants to inspire her students to do the same.

Now finishing up her sixth year of teaching at Tustin Middle, Miss Brown heads up the CT Bulldogs Run Club with three other coaches, including Steve Dunmeyer, who was her own basketball coach back at Tustin High. “He inspired me to start this run club,” Miss Brown says, “and he has supported me every step of the way. He pushes me to be a better teacher, athlete and person.”

Her mother, Jan Brown, also comes to help out on Thursdays. “She comes out every week with her smile to encourage the kids,” says Coach Brown. “She loves being a volunteer and loves being active!”

Kids Run Club Coach

Jan echoes her daughter’s sentiments. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” she says. “I exercise every day. It’s so important for these kids to get outside, take a break and move. We have walkers and talkers and some competitive kids who run a lot.”

Tracking Their Miles

The students keep track of how many laps they run to equal a mile. On Marathon Mondays, three laps equals a mile; at Run Club on Thursdays, five laps is a mile. The students can also count every 20 minutes’ worth of medium-to-high-intensity sports and games that they engage in as one mile.

Miss Brown has seen numerous benefits for her students since they began running with Marathon Kids. Their favorite part about Run Club is being part of a team. “They love being with their friends and making new ones,” Miss Brown says. She has seen many of the runners’ per-mile paces improve, along with their grades, self-confidence and overall attitudes. “The kids are supporting each other and applauding each other’s efforts,” she says.

Seventh-grader Franco Zavala has always been a hard worker, but since he started with Run Club, his self-confidence is higher and his grades have improved. Jamie Ibarra, also in seventh grade, shows up to the track with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. Miss Brown has noted improved leadership skills in Jamie. “She knows it’s hard work, but she still pushes herself to get in as many laps as she can!”

kids run club runner

Miss Brown uses the app RaceSplitter to track her students’ miles. The children enter their locker numbers when they come by on Marathon Mondays, and they use tally tracking at Thursday’s run club meet-ups. They fill in their own mileage logs once a week, when Coach Brown updates them on their total miles. When the runners hit that magical 26.2 mile mark, they get to enter their names on the Hall of Fame poster outside the gym, and they are also recognized in the school announcements.

Miss Brown and the school have multiple ways of honoring the runners’ milestones and keeping the children’s morale high. She chooses a weekly Runner of the Week, for example, awarding a medal to a student who has shown effort. Eighth-grader Anthony Quintana, a recent Runner of the Week, loves to run and is always one of the first runners out on the track every Thursday. This makes him feel successful.

Marathon Kids California

Miss Brown also features students on the CT Bulldogs Run Club Instagram page when they earn Runner of the Week or hit major milestones, such as completing a marathon. She accompanies their photos with encouraging captions like “Yay!” and “Awesome job!” and “Unstoppable!” The students’ smiles and looks of pride are priceless as they hold up their certificates or rewards like Nike t-shirts and shoelaces.

Youth Run Club

A Fun-Loving Coach Who Knows Kids Need To Be Kids

When the school celebrated “National Pi Day” on March 14, Miss Brown signed up to be one of the teachers at whom students were allowed to throw a pie. “Bring it!” she wrote on Instagram the day before the event.

Miss Brown understands very well that kids need to be kids. Many of these particular kids come from low-income backgrounds, and they love their Marathon Kids running club. It’s new, and it gives them time to be social as they walk or run their miles together. Some of the students help their coach set up and mark off laps. Some of them are competitive and choose to race against each other, racking up miles as quickly as they can. Others walk and talk. Some simply run the whole time, keeping a steady pace as they make progress toward their goals. Marathon Kids is about going at your own pace and challenging yourself as you cover the miles.

Orange County Run Club

Many Benefits For The Students

As much technology as the CT Bulldogs Run Club has incorporated into its activities, it’s still all about getting outside onto the track and putting one foot in front of the other. Many of the runners have finished one marathon already and are well on their way toward finishing a second one. As Miss Brown’s mom Jan says, “Anything is better than staying at lunch on your device.”

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When P.E. teacher Kyle Black started a Marathon Kids running club at Taylor Creek Elementary in Lampasas, Texas, his daughter, Kelbie, wasn’t too excited about the prospect. She was in third grade at the time and had never found running to be enjoyable.

Coach Black knew his daughter could get into it if she gave it a chance, so he encouraged her to participate. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” he says, “because it focuses on reaching all students regardless of their athletic ability. It has changed the culture of our school. Our kids seem more confident and look healthier.”

And he was right about Kelbie: She quickly got into running once it became clear that their after-school training sessions were a great way to spend unstructured time chatting, laughing and catching up with friends. “I love running with my friends and different people,” she says. “When you run with other people, you get to help each other reach your goals.”

It was a pleasant surprise when it turned out she was better at running than she’d expected, especially the discipline and endurance aspects: She became the first kid at her school to hit the standard Marathon Kids goal of running four marathons, or a cumulative 104.8 miles. And she didn’t stop there. She kept going and wound up becoming the first Marathon Kid—not just at Taylor Creek, but in the entire United States—to complete more than 21 marathons over the course of the 2017–2018 school year. In terms of miles, this made her the top Marathon Kids runner in the country.

Nike Marathon Kids

Now ten years old and in fifth grade at Taylor Creek, Kelbie has a new milestone in sight. Sometime this spring, she will log her 1,000th mile with Marathon Kids. That’s a lot of ground covered, accrued over the three years that she’s been running with Marathon Kids—an average of over 330 miles per year, which is the equivalent of more than one full marathon a month.

Over the course of that time, she has grown and developed in several key ways. Her father, Coach Black, reports that he and Kelbie’s mother, Lindsay, have noticed that since Kelbie started running, she is better equipped to deal with frustration when homework or other activities get difficult. “We found out that Kelbie is dyslexic the same year we began Marathon Kids,” he says. “The program helped her realize that she can still accomplish tasks even if they seem impossible.”

The Blacks have also seen Kelbie’s confidence grow. “She is naturally competitive,” says Coach Black, “but she’s often hesitant to start. Her confidence to begin and complete tasks has grown noticeably over the last three years.”

Kelbie has noticed the same changes in herself: “I have been doing better in school,” she says. “Once I started running, I felt more confident in other things that I was doing, and I feel better.”

Improved academic performance and feeling better both physically and mentally are benefits of an active lifestyle that are extensively documented in research on the subject, and which are also widely reported by Marathon Kids runners and their coaches. Kelbie says that if she could tell other kids something about the importance of running and staying active, she would want them to know that “running is a fun way to be active. It helps you in school and helps you stay healthy. Running helps every aspect of your life.”

She has learned a lot about pushing through tough moments from her three years of running with Marathon Kids. “When it gets difficult,” she reports, “I think about finishing another mile or another lap to complete another goal. I focus on my goals when it gets hard.” That’s a strategy that probably any kid would benefit from adding to their toolbox.

Next up? Kelbie’s 11th birthday is in June, followed by middle school starting up in August—and you’d better believe she is relying on everything she’s learned from running to help her tackle that major life milestone. “I want to keep running to be ready for moving into middle school,” she says. If drive, ambition and stick-to-it-iveness count for anything in middle school (and we all know they do!), Kelbie is sure to be a great success in sixth grade and beyond.