MERIDIAN -- Hundreds of kids at a local elementary school hit the track every day to stay fit. However, these kids don't walk and run for a class or for a grade, they do it because they want to.
It's all part of the Pacers program at Ponderosa Elementary in Meridian. Teachers there say it's helping to create a more healthy environment for students. Now, the community, including parents and teachers, are also joining in.
Physical education teacher Jennifer Stoor first came to Ponderosa in 2002 when the school opened. That's when she was told to create a walking program for students.
Stoor says it took many failed attempts to finally make the program successful, and she says the key was support from the school's administration and the students' parents.
"This is an everyday thing at our school; this is the culture of our school; our kids get sad when Pacers is canceled by the weather or when they have to miss school," said Stoor.
Stoor says the students, from kindergartners to fifth graders, now rush to get to the track each recess, and the results are becoming clear.
"These kids are healthy, they are strong, they are fit," said Stoor. "I feel like it's very successful because I haven't heard of another school that does 35,000 miles, and I haven't heard of another school with 75 percent at 25 miles."
Stoor says the school's 568 students completed a total of 34,000 miles this year. That's an average of 60 miles for each student. She says most of the students are also at, or above average in physical education testing, and several have lost weight.
HOW IT WORKS
At Ponderosa Elementary, there are two 15 minutes recesses each day . The students can spend the time playing, but most hit the quarter mile track. They get a popsicle stick for each lap, then teachers track their total distance.
Students get rewards for certain mileages, including paper shoes on the wall with their name, dog tags tracking their totals, and they get to write their name on the principal's white coat.
FAMILIES JOINING IN
Stoor says the community has rallied around the effort to keep Ponderosa's kids healthier. Many parents come during recess to walk with their students, and often bring other young kids as well.
Fifth grader Brooke Murray has completed more than 100 miles every year at Ponderosa. She started before she was even a student. "I was in a stroller with my mom and she was running and walking with my brothers," said Murray.
Murray says she also plays soccer, and likes that her running keeps her fit. "I like that it keeps me healthy and active," said Murray.
Parent Sherstine Mortenson comes to the school during recess to walk with her first grader. "I can't believe how many kids come out here and run every day instead of playing," said Mortenson. She brings her other young children, and says she's impressed by the success of the program.
"It's awesome I've never heard of a school that does this and I think it's so important to instill in young kids that they need to be active," said Mortenson.
On Wednesday, Ponderosa Elementary and its students will be recognized for the Pacers program. A Meridian city councilman will be at the school for an assembly at 9:45. Students who walked or ran 150 miles will be recognized as part of Idaho's Sesquicentennial.
The Idaho State Historical Society is sending those students pins of "Idaho at 150."
Next week, the students who have completed 100 milers are awarded a field trip to the YMCA, where they can swim, rock climb and play.