Motion motivation – School’s pioneering program focuses on fit, not fat |

Motion motivation – School’s pioneering program focuses on fit, not fat

David Mirhadi

In Doreen Baldock’s future, the only thing Deer Creek Elementary students will find super-sized in their lunches is an apple.

They’ll be running home instead of simply dragging their feet, too, all because they discovered the power of fitness.

Baldock, who has run a few marathons of her own, owes it all to a little motivation and creativity that has made the Nevada City school think fit, instead of fat.

Since February, all but a handful of the school’s 455 children have been running for their lives, charting laps and miles logged around the playground, circling the perimeter of the school, even jogging at home in a fitness quest. Though the contest ended Tuesday, Baldock hopes her experiment turns into a lifelong habit for the students.

The students charted their progress on brightly colored posterboards on a supply shed housing the tools of past physical-education programs.

Students and teachers decorated a map of the United States with colored markers, detailing just how far they’d run: a total distance of 3,748 miles, covering a route from Nevada City to New York and back to Chicago. They would have made it back home had a month of downpours not curtailed their progress, said Baldock, the school’s health coordinator.

“This is the perfect age to do this,” Baldock said. “It would be difficult to do this at Seven Hills (Middle School), but at this age, if you get excited about an idea, the kids are like sponges. They totally soak this up.”

Baldock hopes they will take what they’ve learned and keep up their healthy habits through middle school and beyond.

“If they make good choices now, they’ll make good choices at Seven Hills.”

In an age where America appears to be battling an increasingly expanding obesity epidemic – the American Heart Association estimates that 11.9 percent of all white boys aged 6-11 are overweight and 12 percent of all white girls in the same age group are overweight, according to 2000 census figures – Deer Creek aims to be the exception to the rule.

“I haven’t seen a single can of soda here this year, and to me that’s a big change,” Baldock said.

To encourage the children to participate, teachers at Deer Creek dressed up at one point as “brain food,” such as fruits and vegetables. Principal Mike McGarr even got into the act, dressing up as an Oreo cookie and inviting students to take swings at his costume in rejecting unhealthy food choices.

Baldock encouraged the children by bringing in guest speakers schooled in long-distance running and offered ribbons and prizes for children during the one-mile “mini marathon” Tuesday.

Before Baldock arrived at Deer Creek a few years ago, McGarr admitted that physical fitness wasn’t taken as seriously. Now he encourages Baldock, a registered nurse, and other physical education teachers to provide more physical activities than routine sports. When it snows, children are encouraged to go sledding. Students also participate in kickball and tetherball tournaments. Wednesday, teacher Janice Loveday patrolled a group of students playing “Siege,” an old-school cross between dodge ball and jungle gym.

McGarr credited his enthusiastic staff for turning his students into health nuts.

“If you don’t have the right people, it won’t be as successful.”

When he began running this winter, fourth-grader Bowen Baker admitted he “stunk. I could only do three laps” before tiring out. He ended up running 460 laps over the next three months.

Classmate Johnny Foley, 10, was skeptical too, until he realized running made him feel powerful. Now, he lives to test his body’s limits.

“The fun part about running is it makes you feel really good to run fast,” he said, adding that running with a friend helped him chart 516 laps, or more than 103 miles. “It feels good, just trying your best.”

“It’s not work to do this, it’s a choice,” said student Madison Heppe, who ran 143 laps.

Bob Walsh’s fourth-grade class topped the school with 2,320 laps, or 464 miles. Five laps around the school’s yard equals one mile. The students also ran around the perimeter of the school until reports of a mountain lion in the area kept them inside the school’s chain-link fence.

In asking the children to run wild, Baldock believes she simply educated the children about their bodies.

“Every child has an opportunity to be a part of fitness, and I believe they all want to be fit, they want to be healthy.”

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