Chasing Our Dreams... How One Lodi Teacher Is Inspiring Students

Janine punches a Running Club student's card

Janine punches a Running Club student's card

Janine Jacinto, or Ms. Jacinto, has been teaching for for 20 years, and has been a runner for most of her adult life. About 19 years ago, she decided to combine her two passions, teaching and running, and began a running club at her then school. It’s such a simple concept, I was actually surprised when I visited and checked it out. I’m a chronic over thinker, so the simplicity of this program really impressed me. Mondays, 4th through 6th graders at Heritage School meet out front of Ms. Jacinto’s classroom, sign in, grab their stamp card, then go out to the field where they run laps. The stamp card looks like one you would get a coffee shop or something, one of those, “Buy nine coffees get the tenth one free!” One hole punch or stamp on the card for every coffee. Well these kids go out to the field and run, and for every lap, they get a hole punch. That’s all they do, run laps. And yah know what? They LOVE it! When I visited the kids were out there, most in groups, some on their own, just running and getting their little cards punched. At the end of the 30 minutes the kids collect and sit on the blacktop, Janine talks to them about races around Lodi for a bit, and then any kid who has their card all the way punched up (which is the equivalent of 4 miles) gets a little footsie charm that they can collect and wear on a bracelet or necklace.

A student shows off a "footsie" charm. Students get a charm for every four miles they run.

A student shows off a "footsie" charm. Students get a charm for every four miles they run.

If anyone out there reading this has been to a run in Lodi, you have most likely seen Janine there. She loves running and she loves kids, so combining these two passions was a no brainer, but it goes deeper than that. “Well obviously my love for running was an inspiration. There’s also this not so imaginary line that divides Lodi in half, the railroad tracks, and a lot of the families here (who go to Heritage School) don’t know about the stuff on the other side. This is a way to introduce the kids to something else. Plus it’s a relatively cheap activity they can get involved in and do almost anywhere.” This running club isn’t just a way to get kids active, it also is a tool to introduce many of them to a world full of new people. “Having the kids around other runners helps open doors and makes connections for kids because they’re meeting people in the community they might not otherwise meet, and shows them possibilities they might not have seen otherwise.”

“THEY’RE MEETING PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY THEY MIGHT NOT OTHERWISE MEET, AND SHOWS THEM POSSIBILITIES THEY MIGHT NOT HAVE SEEN OTHERWISE.”

Janine’s been doing this now long enough that she’s had the blessing to see how her running club has had a long time impact on the students. “We had one girl, Ruth, she’s an amazing runner and really an amazing all around student. Right now she’s a junior at Lodi High and running track and cross country. She’s the #1 ranked varsity girls runner, and has a 4.5 GPA. She went to Heritage school and was in Mel’s (Janine’s daughter) class. At the time our running club was open to 1st through 6th grade students, so Ruth started running as a 1st grader. She stood out and I would pace her for awhile, and then I had some of the guys in our (adult) running club pace her for awhile and after awhile it was clear she was going to do it herself. And she’s doing phenomenal. She’s a really great student and athlete.”

Isn’t it amazing that something so simple could help propel one child so much. If I could have one person read this newsletter and be inspired to take action to contribute their own personal strengths to our community, I would be besides myself. Can you imagine how wonderful it must be to watch a little girl who you helped inspire, grow into such a standout teen? I can’t. It’s just one example of how this simple running club has the power to inspire kids. I asked Janine if the Running Club solved any problems and she had a lot to say (which I love). “With regards to ‘what problem does the running club solve’ . . . . I’m not sure that running club directly ‘solves’ a problem but I do think it provides opportunities for change.  For kids that have not participated in an organized sport, running club gives them a safe and supportive place to explore their athletic abilities. I have a poster in my classroom with an image of a female triathlete with a quote by Sally Edwards above it that says ‘when was the last time you did something for the first time?’ I have noticed students that have participated in running club go on to high school and try other sports (tennis, track, cross country etc) – I think participating in running club and going to 5k races may have opened a door for them/helped them work past that ‘scariness’ of trying something new and perhaps not part of their family traditions or culture.

“WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME?” - SALLY EDWARDS

I think it has also encouraged leadership in students.  I always have a group of 6-8 kids that are running club ‘leaders.’ They help set up/organize etc.  As well, when we have applied for grants through organizations such as the United Way, we are asked to attend an interview before a panel of their board members.  I have always taken a few of the runner ‘leaders’ with me and they have done an outstanding job of telling about why running club is important to them. One of those former ‘ambassadors’ is now student body president at Tokay High School. Running club also ‘solves the problem’ of communication.  It gives those of us that are out there as teachers the opportunity to connect with the kids, a chance to have conversation in a relaxed atmosphere. It also gives the students the opportunity to run (or walk) and talk with their friends, and to be supportive of one another’s successes.”

I didn’t need much convincing that Running Club was important, but Janine really laid out the impacts even farther than I would have guessed. One of the things I took away from watching this club, is how such a simple gesture could really impact others, especially kids. You might not think what you have to offer is that big of a deal, but just look at what a simple idea can do. Just sharing your passions with others may not feel like a stretch, but to some people it makes a world of difference. Thanks to Janine for sharing this program with me, and making me realize I don’t always need to overthink my own programming so much. I’ll definitely have a new appreciation school Running Clubs next time I see them around town.

 

TAKEAWAYS FROM THE RUNNING CLUB:

  1. PROGRAMS DON’T NEED TO BE ELABORATE AND PRICEY TO INSPIRE YOUTH.

  2. SHARING YOUR PASSION WITH OTHERS MIGHT JUST SPARK A FLAME IN SOMEONE ELSE.

  3. WORKING PAST THE “SCARINESS” OF SOMETHING NEW OPENS A WHOLE NEW WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES.