Some Oceano Elementary students started running as soon as they spotted sixth-grade teacher Jim DeCecco.
Others waited until DeCecco hollered, “Go!” and then took off across the school’s blacktop, most keeping to the right of the bright orange cones set up in a large circle.
After completing each loop, the students grabbed a small square of paper to enter in a raffle for a chance to win prizes like colored pencils, crayons and markers. By the time the bell rang at 8:50 a.m., some students had amassed as many as six or even 10 “tickets,” indicating they had run a mile or more.
This voluntary before-school exercise program started about a month ago at Oceano Elementary. It joined a number of other activities geared to get kids moving, including monthly walk- and bike-to-school days; noontime sports leagues and the “bike posse,” where teachers take students on bicycle rides after school.
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School staff also place an emphasis on a healthy diet by encouraging students to eat their fruits and vegetables at lunch and through a monthly program highlighting local produce.
“The idea started when we were doing the Jog-A-Thon fundraiser in October,” Principal Ron Walton said, referring to an annual event to raise money for the school’s parent-teacher association. “We noticed how much the kids like running. They were just kind of exuberant with their running.”
DeCecco said it also gives him 15 minutes to connect with and compliment students. The idea is loose and simple: students who want to run follow the cones around an outside track; walkers stick to an inside loop. Six loops of the outside cones equal a mile.
On Tuesday, perhaps as many as 200 students — about half the school — were sprinting, jogging and walking around the track. Sixth-grader Brian Barcenas collected 10 tickets, and his cheeks were flushed with the effort of running nearly 2 miles in less than 15 minutes.
“It’s fun for me,” said Barcenas, 12. Besides reaping the benefits of exercise, Walton hopes the daily running might also help students focus more in class. As third-grader Samaira Rickman, 9, said: “We run all the way and get our jigglies out.”