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E.P. Rock students with energy to burn join the Mileage Club

Students at E.P. Rock Elementary School have energy to burn. Now, thanks to a parent-run fitness program, they have another outlet for all that pizazz.

The Mileage Club encourages children to walk or run at recess. Parent volunteers and the school's playground supervisors keep track of their mileage.

The kids earn tokens to attach to a key chain and other prizes as they rack up the miles.

"It's amazing. Some of these kids are putting in up to three miles after eating lunch," says Principal Mike Callahan. "It just lets off that energy and steam that they've accumulated from the morning instruction and prepares them for the afternoon - so they are able to sit and listen and gain some instructional insight."

Callahan, who is in his second year as principal at Rock Elementary, recommended the Mileage Club after participating in a program like it at Turtle Lake Elementary School in Mounds View, Minn. He was the associate principal there before coming to Hudson. Mileage clubs are the latest thing in school fitness programs nationwide. Educators and parents can go online to learn how to set up a program and purchase the mileage cards and awards to run one.

Promoters tout the programs as simple and effective.

At E.P. Rock, playground supervisors Nancy Bowers and Laurel VanSomeren run the Mileage Club with the help of parent volunteers. The Rock Parent Group buys the materials and awards to operate it.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during a five-week period, students that choose to participate in the Mileage Club pick up a mileage card from parent volunteers at the start of the noon recess. The children walk or run around a quarter-mile course and have their cards punched at the end of each lap.

They receive various tokens to attach to their key chains as they reach the five-, 10-, 15-, 20-, 25- and 30-mile marks. At 10 miles, they also receive a certificate; at 15 miles, a bottle of Gatorade; at 20 miles, an invitation to a pizza party; at 25 miles, a T-shirt; and at 30 miles, a sweatshirt.

"They push it to get to mile 15 to get the bottle of Gatorade," Callahan says. "It's amazing how they react."

While the number of overweight children has gotten a lot of media attention recently, Callahan says the Mileage Club wasn't started specifically to deal with that problem.

"It just lends itself to the idea that exercise is important," he says. "...They can hang on the monkey bars, they can play soccer, they can go on the swings. This is just another opportunity for them to do something constructive. And from their standpoint, it's fun."

It's no coincidence that candy isn't used as an incentive for participating in the program, however.

"No candy bars," Callahan says with a laugh.

He credits the playground supervisors, parent volunteers and parent group for making the Mileage Club work.

"The only way this really takes off is if we have parent volunteers," he says.

When the Mileage Club held its first five-week session last fall, 88 percent of third-graders, 75 percent of fourth-graders and 72 percent of fifth-graders participated. More than half of the third- and fourth-graders reached the 10-mile mark and roughly 10 percent of all the participants went 20 miles. One fifth-grader logged 30 miles.

Second-graders were allowed to participate in the spring session that began April 12 and have taken to it with great enthusiasm, Callahan reports.

Last Friday, parents and other family members were invited to walk with their children.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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