The right blend of incentives and an understanding of the simple needs of children are behind a successful walking program at Sallie Cone Elementary that has kids excited about exercise.
"You wouldn’t think so, but the kids are really excited about walking," said Kathy Tilson, Sallie Cone’s assistant principal.
The Walking ‘N Talking program at the Conway elementary school is a creative way to span time for children who arrive at school well before the first bell rings.
The program has some students getting up earlier, just to be a part of it.
Haven Green, third-grader, said she wants to get up early to go to school and walk.
"It is fun to walk and talk to friends," Green said. "We get to hang out in the morning."
She said that the routine helps her to wake up and readies her for class.
"The wind blows and it is nice in the morning," Green said.
Brandon Biddle, fourth-grader, said he likes to get the exercise, and he likes to earn "feet" for his necklace.
"I’m almost close to my ‘mega foot,’" Biddle said.
Tilson explained that Biddle is close to earning one of the large foot charms for his program necklace that tallies his progress around the track.
He is close to 50 miles.
Qwen Madden and Meghan Eakens, fourth-graders, try to get to school as early as they can to walk.
Eakens hopes to soon earn her third marathon, and Madden said he wants to talk to his friends before the day starts.
"Several of our walkers have over 75 miles," Tilson said. "They keep track of their progress with a chart."
Eight laps around the Sallie Cone walking and running track equal 1 mile, and each time a student passes a mark, a teacher hands him or her a popsicle stick to keep track of laps.
As second, third and fourth-grade students pass their teacher, they may review a chart that lets them know how far away or how close they are to earning the next charm on their bragging necklace.
Tilson said the exercise program is interdisciplinary, with links to social studies and mathematics.
Once inside the school, children track their progress on a hallway map.
"We’ve been to the 10 most populated cities in the United States this week," Tilson said. "Last week, we went to the biggest roller-coasters."
Since September, the grades have collectively covered 4,530 miles, close to the 5,000-mile goal for school’s end June 7.
"Another teacher told me that it is a great transition for kids from home to school," Tilson said. "If they had a hard morning, they can come walk it out. They have conversation and some studies show that kids need to talk with friends and socialize before school starts for the day."
Sallie Cone’s most dedicated walker is Matthew Huffman, a third-grader.
"He’s beyond speed walking," his teacher said.
He has logged 105 miles since the program began.
Tilson said the program is beneficial to all — and is inclusive of students "in special class."
"Kids who might not get academic awards and are in a special class are recognized along with their peers," she said. "They get awards just as other students do. Out of our 12 mega walkers, three are in special classes."
Tilson admitted she’s gotten "way too excited" about the program, but the students’ enthusiasm keeps her in her office after school hours to tally each student’s progress.
Foot charms are awarded at a school assembly at noon each Thursday.
"It’s inexpensive but has many benefits," she said. "It is simple. Children like to be outside and they like to get things."
The incentives will continue next year, the neighborhood school’s final year on South Boulevard.
The district’s 2012 plan includes redistricting and the construction of a new elementary school on Old Military Road in south Conway.
Those students who participate next year will have the opportunity to be part of the Little Rockers Kids Marathon in Little Rock in March.
"They will walk the first 25 miles here at school, and they will run the last mile of the marathon," Tilson said.
The school will pay students’ entry fees with part of a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant.
The program is one that all but five students in the three grade levels have chosen to be a part of.
Participation is voluntary, Tilson added.
"It has been one of the easiest things to get the kids excited about, and it happens to be good for them," Tilson said.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)