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Schools add fourth ‘R’ to the mix — running

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POSTED January 30, 2013 3:46 p.m.

When Escalon Unified School District teacher Nabby Casteel first got the idea for The Marathon Club, she just wanted to make being at school a little more fun, to give students something to look forward to other than reading, writing and arithmetic.

So she added a fourth ‘R’ to the traditional three R’s of the educational experience … Running.

“I liked running a lot and I thought it would be a fun thing that kids could do,” Casteel explained. “It would give them something fun in the morning or to do after school.”

Still going strong after more than four years, the Marathon Club this year features some 200 Dent Elementary students. The Escalon school is a kindergarten through fifth grade campus in the heart of town and the club maintains the same schedule it has from the very beginning, Mondays after school and Tuesdays and Thursdays before school starts.

“It helps to keep them healthy and fit,” Casteel said.

Previously working for the district as a fourth grade teacher at Dent, Casteel now is a sixth grade teacher at nearby El Portal Middle School in Escalon. She sees sixth graders coming in from the Dent campus that took part in Marathon Club. Her son, a 2010 Escalon High graduate, was a standout cross country runner for the Cougars and her daughter, now a junior at Escalon, did cross country this year but prefers the running required for basketball and tennis as her primary high school sports.

Casteel said part of the fun, especially for the Tuesday and Thursday morning club sessions, was to see grandparents and occasionally parents come to the school to hit the track with their children. The school has a small track area that is used for the club and participants can run, jog or walk. The goal is to log miles, whether it takes a full week of sessions to hit a mile or if they can complete the distance in one club meeting.

The structured club runs are Mondays after school, 2:20 p.m. to 3 p.m., along with Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 7:45 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.

Now that Casteel is at El Portal, the current club coordinator is Dent teacher Carrie Nash.

“She had worked with me on it before, she was always involved with the club,” Casteel said.

Nash also has a strong running background and earned plenty of athletic accolades herself while attending Escalon schools.

Along with the healthy exercise, club participants can earn charms and certificates, often with special themes.

“If you ran so many miles in October, you could win a pumpkin charm,” Casteel said. “I tried to have a theme for each month to keep them encouraged to run.”

Nash has maintained that effort and said youngsters really enjoy adding charms to their collection. Students can also earn certificates for every five miles completed and Casteel said they receive an official Marathon Club T-shirt when they hit the 26.2-mile plateau, the traditional marathon distance.

The Dent PTA has helped in that regard, providing funds for purchase of charms and incentives.

For some of the students, it’s just something fun to do, with the added health benefits a plus.

“I like the running, some days more than others,” said fourth grader Adriana Lopez during a club session. She added that she tries to participate both Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Casteel said she didn’t know what to expect when she first started the group.

“It’s amazing how many kids came out and I am glad they are still doing it,” she said.

She also pointed to studies that have shown the academic benefits of regular exercise, which helps to stimulate the brain and give kids sharper focus, sometimes resulting in higher test scores.

“I think it gets them more ready for school,” she said of the morning runs.

The Monday afternoon run, Nash explained, helps the kids get rid of some excess energy built up over the weekend. The club runs throughout the school  year, though a significant rain will occasionally prompt cancellation of a session.

A volunteer group of teachers and parents help out, keeping track of the laps logged by students during each session. Nash and fellow Dent Elementary teachers Lance Rockwell and Nicole Collins oversee the club together. Nash said students can start at any time and run one, two or all three days.

Kindergarten through second grade students get a chain after the first three miles and every three miles they get a reward while the third through fifth graders earn a chain after the first five miles and rewards for every five miles after that. Awards are given out every Thursday.

Each school year starts with a new club, so students don’t keep their miles from year to year.

The continued success of the club, said Nash, shows that the students enjoy the activity and earning the rewards.

“They like to earn those charms, earn the rewards and see the total miles add up,” Nash said.

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