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School's Running Club Leads to Academic, Behavioral Gains

Since a Maryland elementary school started a running club in fall 2009, its students have boosted their fitness levels and attention spans, made major gains on test scores, and decreased the frequency of disciplinary problems.

Students at Orchard Grove Elementary in Frederick, Md., have gone cuckoo for the school's "mileage club," which was started by phys. ed. teacher Brenda Tarquinio, according to the Washington Post. During recess, Tarquinio hands out pendants to students as rewards for running a certain amount of laps. In the 18 months since the program started, nearly all the school's 680 students have begun participating.

The charms started out simply enough: Students would receive a small plastic shoe pendant for every five miles they ran. Then, Tarquinio started adding charms for certain events—snowflakes for running in January, turkeys for running in November, etc. Names of students who cumulatively ran 26.2 miles appeared on the school's gym walls as part of the "marathon club," which eventually led the way to the 100-mile club.

Not surprisingly, the students' fitness levels saw immediate results. Before the club, 12 percent of the school's students rated outstanding in terms of cardiovascular health on the Fredrick County district's physical-fitness exam. After the first year, that number jumped to 20 percent. Likewise, the percentage of students who needed to improve their cardiovascular fitness plummeted from 36 percent to 21 percent.

The true surprise, say the school's administrators, was the behavioral and academic effects that the running club had on the students. Assistant Principal Marilyn Mathews told the Post that before the club started, she would have seven students per day sent to her office after lunch. Now? Only three per week.

Furthermore, the school jumped 10 percentage points on its scores in reading and math on the 2010 Maryland School Assessment, although Mathews noted that the school can't determine exactly how much of the academic gains came from the running club. (She did tell the Post that school staff had more time for professional development these days, with the decrease in disciplinary issues.)

"They are mastering math skills," said Diana Rabideau, a 1st grade teacher, to the paper. "When they come back from lunch, they are now so calm and ready to start an activity. And the boys—the boys!—they are reading now."

If you've been following Schooled in Sports these past few months, you should know by now that these findings aren't coincidental. Research from the University of Illinois in 2006 linked exercise with improved brain function in adolescents. Three years later, the same researchers found a connection between exercise and improved attention spans in students. And a study from earlier this year out of Georgia Health Sciences University made the same connections: Exercise was found to increase cognitive function in students.

Granted, some schools, such as Naperville Central High School in Illinois, have long realized the benefits of exercise for students. Many students in Naperville lead off their days with phys. ed. class in an attempt to prime their brain for learning for the rest of the day. Not so coincidentally, the test scores of Naperville students have gone through the roof since the increased focus on physical fitness began.

(H/T to Richard Whitmire and the Why Boys Fail Blog for the Frederick, Md., story.)

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