MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- Bolden Elementary School students have spent the school year walking across America, one lap at a time.
The school’s 4th, 5th and 6th graders have logged more than 6,500 miles since the “Feelin’ Good Walking Club” took its first steps Sept. 7.
“It’s a program I learned about during a conference and adapted to fit our school,” said Michelle Hrabanek, physical education teacher, Bolden Elementary. “The students have been ecstatic about it.”
An average of 100 students participate in the walks every Tuesday and Thursday for about 20 minutes. The students walk a quarter-mile course laid out on the school grounds and teachers and staff help them keep track of their laps and miles.
“We fill out log cards to track each students’ mileage,” Hrabanek said. “Each card filled out equals five miles and when a student hits that milestone they get a toe token as a keepsake.”
The toe tokens have become a hot item around the school, popping up as necklaces and bracelet charms on students’ shoestrings. Glow-in-the-dark toe tokens are given out to students who reach higher milestones. The popularity of the walking club and the toe tokens has grown during the school year, according to Hrabanek.
“When I introduced the program, I expected some initial popularity and then thought it would probably decline as the school year went on,” Hrabanek said. “But, we were surprised to see that the popularity grew and we had more and more students wanting to participate.”
The program originally had a modest goal of walking enough miles to cross the country, but that had to be adjusted once the students got excited about it, according to Tami Streib, school nurse, Bolden Elementary.
“We knew we wanted to keep track of our progress on a map when we started,” Streib said. “It did not take us long to realize that we were going to easily make our goal of walking from Beaufort to the West Coast. Now we’re trying to make it all the way back to Beaufort.”
A map of the U.S. in the school’s main hall shows the walkers path, with highlights in large and small cities like Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles. At each city highlighted on the map, the teachers and staff displayed information about the city and state their walkers have come across. Also hanging in the main hall are sneakers that represent individual students’ milestones ranging from 15 to 100 miles.
“The kids are really proud of their accomplishments, they enjoy looking at the map and displays,” Streib said. “It has gotten to the point where they love reading the information about the city or state so much that they give us a hard time if we don’t update it on time.”
The club turned back east after hitting Mt. Vernon, Wash., and was in Stuart, Neb., after passing through 20 states as of May 13. With less than a month of school left, the walking club will have to pick up the pace to hit their goal of returning to Beaufort. Although the club is only half-way back from it’s west-coast jaunt, they could have walked from Beaufort to LA, back to Beaufort and back to LA with their current amount of miles.
“We got a little zig-zaggy on our map, because we kept wanting to make stops to learn about different places, but now we’re definitely focusing on our goal,” Hrabanek said.
The Bolden students are not the only ones who have been wearing a track into the school grounds. Teachers, assistants and family have gotten in on the act.
“We have really had a nice response from parents and family,” Hrabanek said. “We have had parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents walking with students. Even teachers have gotten out on the track and donated their miles to random students. The best part of the program catching on is that with a parent’s supervision, the students can do it any time they want.”
The walking club is another way for the students to learn about fitness and different places around the country and get more exercise at the same time, according to Streib.
“There are certain standards that we need to meet,” Streib said. “For example, the American Heart Association says that children should exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Between recess, PE classes, this program and even walking to and from school, our students are definitely meeting that standard. On top of that, they are learning about fitness and U.S. cities and states.”
The school’s PE program tries to incorporate different sports and activities like golf and tennis, in addition to regular schoolyard games to encourage the students to find a sport they enjoy, according to Hrabanek.
“The goal is to help them find something they love to do that promotes lifelong fitness,” Hrabanek said.
While the walking club makes it’s way back to Beaufort, the Bolden staff hopes each student is taking more steps towards a healthy lifestyle.
“Health dangers to our children like obesity and diabetes are on the rise and we need to fight that,” Hrabanek said. “We want our children to love fitness and I think we have a great group of students here who are doing that."