2015-06-12 / Front Page

Inspiration followed by perspiration

Kennebunk Elementary School completes new program, Running with Character
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Kaden Stevens, front, is trailed by Alex Valentino, left, and Theo Pow, right, in a run across the Eastern Trail bridge over I-95 during the final day, June 4, of the new Running with Character program at Kennebunk Elementary School. (Duke Harrington photo) Kaden Stevens, front, is trailed by Alex Valentino, left, and Theo Pow, right, in a run across the Eastern Trail bridge over I-95 during the final day, June 4, of the new Running with Character program at Kennebunk Elementary School. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — They say if you build it, they will come, but sometimes you only have to offer it, and they will run.

Kennebunk Elementary School this past week completed a successful five-week pilot of a new program called Running with Character. On the surface an after school running club, each session begins with inspirational messages on being kind and respectful, as well as being considerate of differences, even one’s own.

The June 4 session included a talk among students about “what it means to be a good friend,” while previous weeks have included readings from books like, “It’s Okay to be Different,” and “It’s Okay to Make Mistakes,” both by Todd Parr.


Some of the 66 students in grades K-3 who signed up for the Running with Character afterschool activity group at Kennebunk Elementary School warm up before their outing along the Eastern Trail Thursday, June 4, during the fifth and final week of the pilot program. (Duke Harrington photo) Some of the 66 students in grades K-3 who signed up for the Running with Character afterschool activity group at Kennebunk Elementary School warm up before their outing along the Eastern Trail Thursday, June 4, during the fifth and final week of the pilot program. (Duke Harrington photo) It’s coaching that then gives students in grades K-3 something on which to reflect while they run sprints on the school’s athletic field, or jog along the nearby Eastern Trail.

The program was spearheaded by Sarah Dugas, a response to intervention teacher in her first year at KES. The basic concept is modeled on the GROW (Go Running Our Way) program Dugas saw while working as a long-term substitute teacher last year at Kennebunkport Consolidated School. However, while that running club is themed to an anti-bullying campaign, Dugas got Consolidated’s blessing to adapt it for KES, adding a character-building component, while opening her program to younger students, all the way down to kindergarten.

“I’ve found the two go together so well,” said Dugas, “The running is a vehicle for the character- building. It’s like saying, be kind to your body, but also be kind to others.”

Even so, Dugas said, she only expected to draw maybe a dozen participants at most, even after KES Principal Ryan Quinn gave it a shout-out in his weekly newsletter to parents.

What happened was quite the opposite,

“It’s unbelievable how well it’s gone,” said KES kindergarten teacher Nancy Goldberg, who helped co-facilitate the program with Dugas.

“We got so many kids, we ended up having to turn some away, just for a lack of staffing,” she said, adding, “We could have easily had another 15 or 20 kids. I’m not quite sure what has made it so popular.”

Running with Character marks Goldberg’s second innovation at KES this year. At the beginning of the school year she helped launch a much-lauded yoga program for kindergarteners that is expected to expand next fall from this year’s limited pilot program.

However, the response to the yoga classes, while fervent, was nothing like the new running club, which may be surprising since it was a volunteer program that required parents make special arrangements to pick their children up after each Thursday session was over.

Because of the popularity if the program, and the forced cut-off, Dugas and Goodberg scrapped a planned sixth week, replacing it with a fun run opened up to the entire KES student body. That event, held Friday at the high school, drew more than 120 participants.

Quinn provided T-shirts to event participants adorned with the Running with Character logo designed by Dugas, while she and Goldberg dipped into their own pockets to provide medals to all those who completed a full mile.

Parents helped out with the fun run, and also with the regular five-week program, sending in healthy snacks for children to eat during their pre-run discussion period, and suiting up to run — or jog, or walk — alongside the students.

“Our parents have been so generous,” Dugas said. “All of the healthy snacks have been donated.”

One parent active with the group has been Leslie Carroll, a physical trainer who runs a boot camp on Kennebunk Beach for Get Out There Fitness. She has a daughter in kindergarten at KES and attended all five weeks of Running with Character, leading the warm-up period between the character-building session and the actual run.

“I think this has been amazing. It’s been really cool, just to get the kids out there and active, and to see how happy they are when they finish,” she said. “We had to work to figure out how to handle the faster kids versus the slower kids, but they’ve all progressed, and some have gone as far as 4 miles in the time we have before parents come for pick-ups at 4:30.”

But Running with Character has not been just a physical and emotional exercise. Students end each season by writing reflections on what they have learned and done, which ties in with KES’ literacy goals.

“It’s really fun,” said Alex, a first-grader. “Each week was easier to run more. I met new friends and felt good about myself. I felt stronger and ran in a race.”

“Running with Character made me feel like I can do anything, like I can run a 5K!” said Sophia, a third-grade student.

“I would definitely like to see them expand this and do even more with it next year,” said Desiree Van Der Werf, who has a daughter in first grade at KES. “It’s gone really well. The kids have all loved it. It gets them out and going and also thinking.”

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