LIMA — What could have been an empty, quiet gymnasium before school started was filled with students chatting with friends and listening to music while walking around and around in circles — all part of the walking club at South Science and Technology Magnet School.
The idea for the walking club came from Michelle Vandemark, a science teacher for first through fifth grades, who saw students sitting down or sleeping while they waited for school to begin and thought that getting the students moving before school would be a much better use of that time in the morning.
“One of the biggest benefits is it gets their bodies moving, their brains moving and they’re ready to learn,” Vandemark said.
The walking club began in January last year, Vandemark said, but has grown much more popular this year. On a typical morning, she has about 50 students walking. There are 78 in the club currently.
Students can begin as early as 7:15 a.m., although most students come about 7:30 when their buses arrive, and can walk until 7:45 a.m., Vandemark said.
Jacquell Horrison comes every morning at 7:15 a.m. He enjoys walking in the morning because it wakes him up and is a way for him to be active before school. The fifth-grader also said he likes talking to his friends and listening to music.
Last spring, Vandemark applied for and received a $1,000 Actions for Healthy Kids grant, which has allowed her to buy pedometers for the students to keep track of their steps, to buy prizes and to buy snacks for Fridays.
The prizes are all activity related. Classrooms compete against other classrooms to see who takes the most steps, Vandemark said. She will also be starting a “Walk Across America” contest where classrooms see who takes enough steps to walk across America the fastest.
Receiving prizes at the end of the week is Caleb Allen’s favorite part of the walking club, the fourth-grader said. Kityna Reeves, a third-grader, said that she enjoys using the pedometers.
Beginning last week, students can bring in their parents to walk with them, Vandemark said, and she provides a healthy snack.
Students in the club are not required to walk every day, they can come and go as they please, Vandemark said.
A similar walking club is being started at Unity Elementary, according to Beth Jokinen, communications coordinator at Lima City Schools.