You can see them during morning drop-off at St. Joseph Elementary School – students as young as five and as old as fifth-graders circling the school grounds, stopping only to swipe a card before taking off again.

Rounding the schoolyard

You will see them again during lunch recess, racking up hundreds of miles within the friendly confines of their schoolyard.

This is Operation Fit, a six-week, city-wide fitness program for elementary students funded through a Battle Creek Community Foundation grant. Ann Gallagher, St. Joseph preschool aide, heads up St. Joe’s effort.

“Our goal as a school and a community is to get kids moving,” Ms. Gallagher said.

Ms. Gallagher tailored St. Joseph’s Mileage Club to fit the grant criteria. Students walk the schoolyard along a specific route. After each circuit, they swipe a personal bar code into an iPad app, which tracks their progress.

Tracking their progress

Eight laps equal a mile and every mile gets students closer to prizes like mileage tokens, wristbands, T-shirts, water bottles, lunch with the principal, even Full Blast day passes.

Participation is voluntary; so is walking.

“They can run, they can skip – I don’t care how they do it as long as they are moving,” Ms. Gallagher said.

On May 3rd, St. Joseph hosted an Operation Fit Family Fun Night with Bronson Battle Creek. Healthy recipe demonstrations and taste-testing were followed by more time on the blacktop.

“We ate first and they were able to walk for an hour,” Ms. Gallagher said. “Some kids did 30 laps that evening.”

Ms. Gallagher tracks miles before school and during lunch recess – times that are open to all elementary students. At the end of the six weeks, the top boy and top girl will receive a Razor scooter.

Second-grader Kolten Etheridge and fifth-grader Ryan Casterline are neck-and-neck for the top boy spot going into the final week.

“As soon as I come out the side doors, they are running,” Ms. Gallagher said. “It’s really awesome to see them compete.”

Although they enjoy the competition, both boys enjoy moving.

“I think it’s a good way to get out and run and be more athletic,” Ryan said.

“I love running and you can just run as much as you want,” Kolten said. “And once you get up into those high levels, it feels good to be up there.

[l to r] Kolten Etheridge, Ann Gallagher, and Ryan Casterline

As for the top two girls?

“I don’t know how competitive they are with each other,” Ms. Gallagher said with a smile. “They are running together.”

The elementary school has totaled 1804.78 miles as of Monday night. The real victory for Ms. Gallagher, however, is getting more kids to enjoy exercise.

“If I could get a least one kid who didn’t exercise moving, then I’ve done my job.”

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Questions? Call Cathy Erskine at 269.963.1131