Education feature: Walking program promotes healthy lifestyle

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Students earn toe tokens and mile markers for walking.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Some Barry Elementary students spend their recess walking in groups, meandering slowly, or stroll by themselves while others jog or sprint around the quarter-mile track.

The students decided Tuesday they are walking to Hawaii, one lap at a time, according to Principal Carrie Bunce.

Bunce started the walking program about five years ago in an effort to get her student’s blood pumping, feet moving and to teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle.

“What we try to teach is a healthy lifestyle and that you don’t need to buy expensive equipment and join gyms and stuff to be healthy,” she said. “All you need to do is walk.”

The $21,000, six-foot wide concrete track was built in time for the 2008-2009 school year after students raised enough money to pay half of the cost in partnership with a grant from the Hubbard Foundation, Bunce said.

Each year students select a destination to walk to and then try to accomplish the miles it would take to get there, Bunce said.

This year’s goal of Hawaii is more than 3,800 miles away, or nearly 8,000 miles round-trip.

Teachers monitor the number of laps completed by students who choose to walk during recess and each classes’ progress is displayed on charts in the gym.

Grades kindergarten through sixth participate.

The classes like to compete against each other, Bunce said, but individual students are also recognized.

Students wear chain necklaces to display the tokens they have earned by walking.

Each Toe Token — small foot-shaped brightly colored plastic charms — represents a mile walked by a child.

“The exercise is really good for the kids and they have something else to do at recess,” Bunce said. “Some kids don’t want to play on the equipment or play basketball or football and they’ve been sitting in a classroom all morning and it’s important to go out and be active.”

Bunce said she has noticed children tend to be more “sedent,” spending most of their time playing video games or sitting indoors, “and do not get outside and play like they used to do. We do have kids who have learned to love to go walking.”

Suzanne Estes said she volunteers at the school, where her granddaughter is a second-grader, helping with the walking program and other activities.

She said she acts as something of a cheerleader as they walk.

“It’s good for their health and I encourage them and praise them,” she said.

“You can visually see that they are having fun… you can hear it from their laughter.”