September 21, 2008

Livermore School Wins Regional Award in State Fitness Challenge

By Eric Louie

LIVERMORE -- The running program at Rancho Las Positas Elementary School is one step closer to a new track after being recognized by the state for its efforts in promoting health.

Last week, the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports named the Livermore school as the Bay Area Regional Award winner in the 2008 Governor's Challenge Competition. The award comes with $5,000 to promote fitness, which the school is putting toward a future track.

Rancho Las Positas was among 152 Bay Area schools that competed, and one of eight from the region that had 100 percent of its students complete the challenge of being active 30 to 60 minutes a day, three days a week for a month during the past year. Statewide, 1,200 schools competed.

"We thought we had a good shot," said Dave Hinds, a parent who co- founded the school's running club. "We have a great program."

The program was started during the 2006-07 school year by Hinds and Bret Dupuis, a parent whose wife teaches at the school. Besides volunteering, the two dads also train together for triathlons.

Their program has students running before school three mornings a week for about half an hour. During the school day, teachers take the students out for physical education activities.

The idea for the program arose when members of a group that gave the school a playground equipment grant commented that the sports field would be a good track. Hinds got the global positioning system he uses for triathlon training, then brought out a lawn mower and created the track.

As an incentive, students are awarded small plastic charms and organizers the founding dads found on the Internet. They then built a reward program around them.

Students collect one Popsicle stick for each quarter-mile lap they run, and a small plastic foot for each mile. Ten of those can be traded in for a big foot.

With two big feet and six small ones, students can get one with "26.2" on it, the distance of a marathon. Those who run more are awarded other charms.

Hinds said in the first two years the school, which has about 500 students, racked up 71,000 running miles.

Other health-related activities have also sprung from the program, such as having students track their eating habits, Hinds said.

Once a month, during the morning runs, the school invites families of the students to also participate. Similar programs are now in place at seven other schools, said Dupuis.

Principal Chris Calabrese, in his first year at the school, said he was impressed with the program when he arrived.

"It's amazing to see the kids out there," he said. Calabrese said the award money will go toward a new track. A clay or chip gravel track would cost $25,000 to $30,000.

The parents club has raised about $13,000, and with the award, grant money and other sources, he said the school is about 75 percent of the way there. Calabrese said the new track could be put in between 18 months and two years from now.

Rancho Las Positas was one of 11 regional winners. Three other state schools -- an elementary school, middle school and high school -- won the grand prize of a $100,000 fitness center.

Reach Eric Louie at 925-847-2123 or [email protected]

Originally published by Eric Louie , Valley Times.

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