CUMBERLAND – B.F. Norton Elementary School has a new running club and it’s getting a lot of participation and notice.
Traci Lynch, a speech therapist at the elementary school, said that the RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education) Commission sends out a weekly memo, and February’s first memo contained a link that she clicked for participation in the Final Mile Program.
For this program, RIDE has partnered with Rhode Races & Events, which is hosting the Newport Marathon on Saturday, April 15, at Easton’s Beach. The idea is to get young children involved in running and to become more active in general. It is an eight-week program, with each child needing to compile 25 miles of running and then taking part in the final mile at the marathon, culminating their 26-mile journey.
Lynch became her school’s coordinator of the program, and she asked some 4th and 5th graders if they were interested. After they received their parents’ permission, their paperwork was sent in. Because they started the program late, they only had five weeks to run their required miles instead of eight, but they still got 23 students involved.
“We decided on practices on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, a half hour before school starts,” Lynch said. “The kids run a minimum of a mile and up to two miles.”
Since they began the program in February, the running has taken place inside the gym. Lynch and her co-manager, teacher Elizabeth Simao, keeps track of each runner’s progress, as they are checked off after every five laps to measure miles and 30 laps in the gym is one mile. Being inside meant they had to limit how many children could join up, so miles could be measured correctly without chaos.
Last week, the children were finally able to run outside on a course that encompassed five big laps around the playground and baseball field. Lynch said that Rhode Races & Events also provided them with a sticker chart to help mark off each participant’s progress.
From what Lynch has seen, not only do these children have almost perfect attendance at the morning practices, but they seem to have no issues getting to school early and being excited to go to school each day.
Some students also did not have a great rate of attendance in school, but now, they haven’t missed a day.
“The program culminates on April 15, but the kids want to do it for the rest of the school year,” she added. “We are going to make it part of programming for next year and hopefully start an annual turkey trot, opening it up to all ages.”
As for the 23 students participating, Rhode Races has given out a code to their families to register for the Newport Marathon for free. On that morning, the students will run their final mile, which is also the last mile near the beach on the marathon’s course, and receive a free T-shirt and a finisher’s medal.
Lynch said a lot of the kids at her school don’t have the means to participate in recreational activities, such as playing a team sport, and this was a great opportunity to get them involved in an activity for free.
“These kids are getting the bug for (running),” Lynch said. “They want to sign up for the Arnold Mills Fourth of July Road Race.”
With just 4th and 5th graders participating, Lynch said some of their siblings are also getting involved and running. There is also a kindergarten student running, as well as some 2nd graders.
“Some of the kids doing this are new to the country and don’t speak a lot of English,” she added.
Last Wednesday, March 22, the runners had two surprise guests run outside with them in Cumberland Mayor Jeff Mutter and Supt. Phil Thornton.
“The kids were so excited,” Lynch said. “It was like Taylor Swift visited the school. Both ran two miles, and afterwards, the kids got photos.”