Summit School PE coach finds kids in early-bird running club do better in class

Kathy Dean goes over the schedule with, from left, Nathan Ivey, 3rd grade; Osasere Ighodaro and Brennan Klein, both 4th grade. — Photo courtesy Summit School

Three mornings a week, Dawn Ighodaro and her 9-year-old son Osasere leave their south Tempe home even earlier than usual to make it to Summit School of Ahwatukee by 8, so Osasere can participate in the school’s running club.

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Osasere is one of about 60 preschool- through eighth-grade kids who start their Summit School days not sitting at a desk but running and walking laps with their friends for 10 minutes.

The running club, now in its second year, is the brainchild of Kathy Dean, the school’s physical education teacher. She says she was inspired in part because of studies that show kids who exercise early in the morning tend to do better in class.

“The research is saying more and more that starting off the day running or walking makes students better learners during the day,” she said.

Summit School is also one of 5,200 schools across the nation that is participating in the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance program called “Let’s move in school,” Dean said. The running club, which meets three mornings a week, fits into the program’s goal of getting students to move more throughout the school day.

To keep track of their mileage, kids are handed a plastic spoon each time they finish one lap around the field. Students also earn colorful plastic shoe-shaped “toe tokens” they can use to decorate their shoe laces; one token is given for every five miles run or walked, Dean said, and a special one is awarded at 10 miles.

Dean said she enjoys watching the way older students often encourage the younger ones by walking with them and praising their efforts.

She also has been interested to see if the club can lead to a tangible improvement in attention and focus. So far, she said, she is happy with the results.

“We have seen quite a bit of difference in the ones who are involved in the club,” she said.

Dawn said her son, who is in fourth grade, likes the chance to run before sitting down for seven-plus hours of school; he also gets a kick out of earning the toe tokens.

“Last year he logged 62 miles, and this year so far he is at 35 miles,” she said, adding that he has not missed one day of the running club since it began.

“He is more focused in school, loves working toward a goal—and he feels proud of himself.”

Jennifer Spear, a west Chandler mom, has two daughters who participate in the running club regularly. Eight-year-old Erin and 6-year-old Paige try attend twice a week, she said, and both are working toward their goals of running a total of at least 26 miles.

Like Dawn, Jennifer said being in the running club has improved not only her children’s stamina but also their attentiveness in school.

“We do notice that they are able to more easily sit still and focus on their work in the morning after having some physical activity,” she said.



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