by Jim Grim
When former Shortridge High School athletics director Kathy Langdon ran the Monumental Marathon for the first time seven years ago, she saw a great opportunity for students. Little did she know then how big that opportunity would become.
“When they first started, I ran the marathon, and said we needed to get the kids involved in this,” Langdon, now the IPS district physical education and health coach, explained. A total of 177 IPS students participated in 2012, the first year for youth engagement, and all came from the kinesthetic movement SUPER School at Frederick Douglass School 19, Langdon added. (SUPER stands for Students Understanding through Powerful and Energetic Routines.) Last October, 1,300 students from 41 individual Indianapolis Public Schools—in addition to students from 17 other area schools—participated in what is called the Monumental Kids Movement Marathon.
Casey Collins, director of operations and community outreach at Beyond Monumental, the nonprofit host organization, says the Monumental Kids Movement program is a seven- to nine-week youth running experience. It culminates this year with students participating in the Indy Half Marathon at Fort Ben on Oct. 5 or the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental 5K downtown on Nov. 9.
“The biweekly program focuses on educating Indianapolis youths about the benefits of exercise, proper diet, and healthy living,” Collins said. For example, nutrition statements called “nuggets” can be messaged throughout the school day, such as “Instead of snacking on potato chips, grab almonds and cashews,” he added.
A comprehensive K–12 curriculum reflects state and national physical education and health standards that feature the importance of cardiovascular health, lifelong learning habits like practicing healthy nutrition, and understanding food labels. “The kids will read nutrition labels while grocery shopping with their moms,” Collins said.
Students learn “the etiquette of running” the first week, Langsdon explained, and they take pre-pacer tests to later measure against post-pacer tests to gauge individual progress. “The kids learn how to take their heart rate, and afterward they’ll talk about it,” Langdon added.
The curriculum is part of a Monumental tool kit each school receives, and each identifies a “motivator” program coach that could be a teacher, parent, administrator, or community member who works with the recruited student team, Collins said. The team runs at least twice weekly to prepare for the race, usually beginning first with walking and some actually running a mile by the third week, Langdon said. About 2,600 total IPS students experienced the seven- to nine-week movement program last year, while 1,300 actually participated in the marathon. The students get a free T-shirt and earn New Balance running shoes, a donation one coach was “astounded” that sponsors provide to students free of charge.
“It is important for us as we expand the program to let people know there is no cost to students to participate,” Collins said. While the Fort Ben 5K attracts mostly Lawrence Township students and the downtown race consists of mostly IPS, charter, and some Wayne and Pike townships students, someday he’d like to see all schools in Indianapolis represented.
More than 300 IPS volunteers participate race day, which begins at 6 a.m. with boarding buses at participating schools, Langdon said. Soon afterward, the adult marathon with 15,000 runners kicks off at 8:15 a.m., followed by the youth start at 8:35 a.m. Most students, she added, average 50 minutes to 1.5 hours to complete the race that begins north on Meridian Street and goes to the Circle downtown.
A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
The experience provides students life lessons far beyond exercise and nutrition, Langdon said. “This is life-changing for the students,” she explained. “From day one, this has been phenomenal. This is beyond any program we have before or after school. Through this program, they learn self-confidence and healthy behavior and realize they can accomplish their goals. You know it makes a much bigger impact than just a race day.”
Students and volunteers reflect on such personal gains.
“I like running club because you stay fit,” Alexandria, a second-grader at Center for Inquiry School 84, wrote of her experience. “And it teaches you to eat better. You can really learn some stuff from running club. You do real races, too. I hope lots of people do running club. You do so much fun stuff. It is amazing: running club is the best club ever.”
Program participants sign a pledge to:
- Give their best effort and show good sportsmanship throughout the program
- Treat all students, teachers, and parents with respect
- Work hard and remember to learn and have fun
- Attend at least 75% of the training sessions, and
- Participate in the 5K at the end of the program
“I learned that many people come together to promote a good cause,” Carl Wilde School 79 volunteer Dorresa Holland reflected. “I was excited at the beginning to see how a marathon operated, and at the end I was humbled and appreciative at all the hard work everyone put in to make the marathon work.”
“I learned that you shouldn’t give up,” School 79 fourth-grader Darlene said. “I felt nervous (at first), but then I was proud of myself.”
Running club motivator/coach James Williams of Louis B. Russell Jr. School 48 pointed out the experience last year included three students with special needs at his school. Williams personally ran with George, a student in a wheelchair, in last year’s race. It allows students to “put down your games, your cell phones, and be more active,” Williams said. The curriculum is especially helpful, he added, because it outlines physical activities for each week.
“I’m tremendously encouraged by the growth of the Monumental Kids Movement and the values and skills our students are gaining not only for themselves but also for their families,” IPS superintendent Aleesia Johnson said. “Teaching children how to run and eat healthy is laying a strong foundation for a successful life built on consistency, goal-setting, and discipline, and we’re grateful to our partners at Beyond Monumental for extending these opportunities to our schools.”
Schools benefit generously from the participation as well. Collins said in 2018 his organization donated $130,000 to the IPS Foundation, $15,000 to Teachers’ Treasures, $10,000 to MSD Lawrence Township, and $5,000 to MSD Pike Township, totaling $160,000 for participating schools. The funding helps support physical education and related student activities for the school communities, Langdon said.
Jim Grim, director of university/community school partnerships at IUPUI, has lived in Midtown for more than 30 years. He is a member of the BTNA/Great Places Education Committee.