Grissom Kids Run Miles and Miles for Mills
Adults keep trying to figure out how to get kids to be more active, and kids keep looking down at their handheld devices in blissed-out ignorance. But Mike Mills, physical education teacher at Tulsa’s Grissom Elementary, didn’t just ask how kids could get more involved. Instead, he found an answer. Mills coached high school cross-country for 15 years before coming to work at Grissom. As an active person whose job it is to keep kids active and promote healthy lifestyles, Mills started a running club for Grissom students.
According to Mills, the program, in its ninth year, has broad roots. He wanted to offer something that “was good for the kids, and to promote a healthy lifestyle.”
But his running club is more than that. “Research has shown that students learn best and retain more,” when they are physically active. Mills quoted one of the studies he read which stated that “the best uniform would be a gym uniform” for school-aged children. Mills wanted to show students, families and faculty that not only is activity good for their bodies, but also for their brains.
In the first year of the program, Mills said, “We had 20 to 30 kids on the track or inside.” The club met every day except Friday from about 7:15 to 7:45 a.m., which would give students enough time to run a few laps and then head to class. Mills said the club starts in the second week of school, and every year the challenge is to run 100 miles.
The beauty of the club lies in its simplicity. Mills arrives at school early every morning. The only equipment he needs is an iPod-ready “boom box” that he wheels out to the track. He paid for this machine with a grant from McDonald’s. When the weather is colder than 40 degrees, he meets the students inside. Each participant gets a card, and Mills and a few parent volunteers punch a hole in the card each time a student circles the track. Every card they fill with punches represents five miles.
Since its inception, the club has grown from 20 regular participants, nine of whom reached the 100-mile mark, to more than half the school population. In 2012, 73 students reached 100 miles, and a few reached much higher mileage. Mills said that last year, a preschool-aged girl and a second-grade boy racked up the highest mileage.
“Our growth is a direct result of parent volunteers,” Mills said. Sometimes parents will accuse him of robbing them of their sleep. “They’ll say, ‘I wanted to sleep in but my kid wanted to come run.’” So the parents bring their children to school early, in the heat, in the cold, four days a week. Often parents will walk with younger children in strollers while their Grissom students run. And, of course, the volunteer is there who helps count laps, and play “rock anthems” that Mills says the kids love.
Besides parents getting up early and volunteering at the track, parents and teachers support the Grissom Track Club through the PTA. The organization pays for the incentives the kids win for their efforts. “We run until there are only three or four days left in the school year,” Mills said, and then he calculates all the miles. He awards students with certificates, bracelet charms and other prizes through the year and at the culmination of the year.
Mills isn’t proprietary about this club. “I’m happy to help any school or organization figure out how they can start their own program.” All they have to do is contact Mills at Grissom at 918-833-9460.