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Kids Run the Nation Saginaw

In 1986, Road Runners Club of America developed the Kids Run the Nation program to educate young children on the importance of physical activity and good nutrition. Today, elementary schools and other organizations all over the nation use the free, 8-10 week curriculum in their youth running clubs. Thanks to one concerned mother and a strong supportive staff, Saginaw’s Handley Elementary School is one of them. 
Michigan Nightlight: Tell us briefly about your program in terms of its purpose and who it serves.
Kids Run the Nation Saginaw Program Coordinator Denise Nightingale: Kids Run the Nation is a multi-week, gender-neutral, youth running program that’s designed for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. At Kids Run the Nation Saginaw, we meet for 10 weeks to assist children in developing a lifelong love of running and a healthy and fit lifestyle.
What really differentiates this program?
Kids Run the Nation is a national youth program that can be locally established and managed, depending on the group’s needs and availability. It’s not just for elementary schools -- scout troops, sports coaches, YMCAs, homeschoolers -- these are some of the other types of groups that implement it. The really nice thing about it is that you can set up any schedule that
I'm also hearing from parents that the children now initiate exercise and try to involve other family members when they go out to run.
works for the kids or the organization. We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours. 
I am really happy and proud that Kids Run the Nation is for both boys and girls. I volunteered for Girls on the Run and I loved it, but wanted to find a program that started earlier than the third grade. And what about boys? Boys need an outlet, too.
What are the keys to success for your running program so far? What are people most inspired by?
I looked at three programs and settled on this one because its parent agency, Road Runners Club of America, is a well-known and respected organization among runners. They made the process of implementation of this program seamless and they were supportive as we developed our version of their running model. I have great support from the Handley Elementary administrators, too, both in getting off the ground and continuing this running club. Some of them volunteer for us. I couldn’t have done this without such strong support.
Parents are inspired by the fact that that Kids Run the Nation is simple and that it begins in kindergarten. I can't tell you how many of them are grateful that their children can do this, because most sports begin at higher grade level. I agree with them. I believe that starting early is the best.
Parents also tell me that their kids are learning and that they love to come. I'm also hearing from parents that the children now initiate exercise and try to involve other family members when they go out to run.  
That inspires me, and I think others are inspired that I do this work for nothing. I think we all try to find our path or calling in life. I've found mine.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is funding. Right now, our funding comes mostly from the $30 fee we charge to join. We don't have any grants yet, but I’m looking at some. I've really tried hard to make it a quality program, because for some people that’s not a lot of money, but for others it is an investment. I work to make it make it worth every penny by assuring that their child is learning new skills and enjoying their time every week.  Grants would make it possible to offer the program for a smaller fee,
I work to make it make it worth every penny by assuring that their child is learning new skills and enjoying their time every week.
or even for free.
How does your program organize the resources needed to make programs happen?
We have a dependable stream of volunteers that help run program and I have formed some relationships with local college students to recruit more volunteers as we continue to grow.
We follow the national model: each week’s lesson is spelled out very clearly, including running games to help make lessons more fun. For example, a couple weeks ago, our lesson was called, "Ready, Set, Spell,” where the kids were given a word to spell and raced to another child to the end to spell it. This week, it was "Math in Action," where we split them into teams and gave each group a math problem. They worked together and then raced to cones with the answers.
These games help our kids stay motivated and wanting to come back. We still run those laps, but we always finish with a few learning and running games.
In the beginning, my priority was to see if this pilot would fly in our community. It took flight. Gathering resources is top priority now, and it's time to reach out to the community to find the funding commitments (from foundations and local businesses) that become educated about Kids Run the Nation Saginaw and see its potential.
Handley Elementary School is working toward certification in the HealthierUS School Challenge that Michelle Obama rolled out in 2010 as a part of an initiative to fight childhood obesity and raise a nation full of healthier kids.  How does your running club help push the school toward that goal?
Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand when looking at improving children's health.

Part of the HealthierUS School Challenge is to not only change the school nutrition environment but also for kids to be more physically active. When they apply, schools list the opportunities that they provide for students to fulfill that program’s physical activity recommendation [60 minutes each day]. I hope that the school can use Kids Run the Nation Saginaw as a vehicle to fulfill that requirement and help Handley become recognized as a HealthyUS School. 

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