Blaine Elementary School has been holding its annual Feel Good Walking program every spring for more than 20 years as a way of encouraging its students to stay active. One teacher is pushing the program one step farther.
Third grade teacher Keith Gasper has been sacrificing his lunch breaks to take his class running around the playground track
every Tuesday and Thursday. Some students choose to walk, and some run right along with Gasper, but all of them eagerly spend their recess time circling the track.
The Feel Good Walking program rewards students who walk or run 40 laps, or 10 miles, around the track over the course of the eight-week program. Gasper’s goal was to have most, if not all, of the students in his class hit that target. On June 3, the last day of the program, 21 of Gasper’s 22 students had completed their 40 laps.
Gasper has been teaching third grade at Blaine since 2004, and has participated in the voluntary Feel Good Walking program before, but he’s never seen this level of participation from his class before.
“Typically, about one-third of the class will want to participate, but this year I noticed that every student in the class had run laps,” Gasper said. “So I started thinking, how far can we push this?”
The extra exercise time was also beneficial for Gasper, who started running a few years ago and is currently training to run the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon in September.
Some of Gasper’s students hit their 40-lap goal early on and opted to go back to normal recess time, but many others chose to keep running with the rest of the class. Gasper himself recently met his goal of 100 laps, accounting for 25 miles total but three of his students had already beaten him to it.
“It was really incredible to get to see these kids from a whole new perspective,” Gasper said. “They were setting goals for themselves and working really hard to achieve them. I told them how impressed and proud I am of them.”
Cindy Freeman, the elementary school’s behavioral specialist, was particularly impressed by Gasper and his class.
“I have some really great, gung-ho teachers who participate in this program every year,” Freeman said. “But I’ve never had a teacher take things quite to this level.”
Freeman says most classrooms try to participate, but few have the level of enthusiasm that Gasper’s class has shown. On average, around 175 students each year meet the 10-mile goal.
Gasper says he’d be willing to try the program again next year, but the level of dedication would depend on his class.
“I can’t really expect the same level of participation from next year’s kids, but I hope to do it again,” Gasper said. “I’m going to miss it. It’s been a fun spring.”