Feature stories

Gym dandies: Mighty Miler program helps teachers fill schools' physical education voids

Javon takes the lead in the 55-meter dash at the Armory Jamboree. Pat Arnow

Javon takes the lead in the 55-meter dash at the Armory Jamboree.

Kindergarteners Logan, Wesley and Nicholas compete in a running game in the cafe Miller Photography

Kindergarteners Logan, Wesley and Nicholas compete in a running game in the cafeteria at PS 273 in Queens.

Teachers are launching their own initiatives to step into the breach created by the Department of Education’s failure to comply with the state requirements for physical activity in city schools.

With 40 percent of city schoolchildren identified as overweight or obese — many attending schools without gymnasiums and with minimal or no physical education programs — and more and more children with asthma, teachers have started Mighty Miler walking, jogging and running clubs that take place before, after and during school.

Thousands of students in 450 city schools are logging their miles in a free program run by the New York Road Runners Club.

Patti Egenstein has created a program to get her 1st-graders at PS 273 in Richmond Hill moving, because, she said, “All the talk is just about data, data, data, forgetting that children have bodies.”

Working in a new school building built without a gymnasium, Egenstein had to improvise when she decided to start a Mighty Miler program. She began a walking regimen — later easing into jogging and running — that took the kids outside and around the block in good weather and through hallways, up and down stairs and round and round a giant measured-out circle she created in the cafeteria on bad days.

For Nathaly Warner’s 6th-to-8th-grade Mighty Milers at PS/IS 184 in Brooklyn, it was a red letter day at the multi-school jamboree meet at the Track and Field Center Armory in Manhattan on Oct. 23.

Xiamora took home third place in the long jump for her Brownsville school and is now in training for a marathon. She gives credit to her physical activity for improving her asthma and strengthening her lungs.

Sixth-grader Javon — “I love the energy running gives me” — took second in the 55-meter dash and first in the 4-x-200-meter relay.

Warner started the program when she found some students were afraid of running because it “made their hearts beat.” Others, she said, were using their asthma as an excuse not to exercise. She explained to concerned parents that her own son has asthma and that she was helping their children, not endangering them, by encouraging them to be active.

“I make sure my students attend as many Mighty Miler events as possible because they are otherwise surrounded by so much negative energy,” she explained. “The events keep the children innocent, active and focused on reaching attainable goals.”

Richard Reiss has performed something of a miracle in his 100-percent Title I school, PS 197 in Far Rockaway, where 4th- and 5th-graders — many of them asthmatic — show up at 7 a.m. for his walking club, which is “their supplemental activity.” He walks with them each morning for an hour.

“If I pass them, they have to jog,” he explained. Without the walking club, the students would have only one physical education class a week.

But for Reiss, the Mighty Miler program is about more than getting the kids at his school in shape.

“It’s about building their self-esteem, first and foremost,” he said. “It’s about giving them a chance to experience something new and to get them off the peninsula.”

For kids who have likely had few opportunities to see and do new things in the past, he pointed out, the program brings them to college games, competitive jamborees and the cheering section at the end of the New York City marathon. It also gives them medals as they reach mileage goals, sneakers and T-shirts — all for free.

Teachers involved in the Mighty Miler program are filling a big hole in their students’ education. A recent audit of 31 schools by City Comptroller John Liu found that none was in full compliance with state guidelines for physical education. The audit also revealed that the DOE has not filed physical education plans with the state — which the state recommends should be reviewed and updated every seven years — since 1982.

The New York Road Runners Club provides training, resources, staff support and incentives as students reach milestones toward their distance goals throughout the year. Awards and events keep the Mighty Milers motivated, but teachers report that the excitement and fun of being active and reaching fitness goals with a team of friends is often the best reward.

User login
Enter the email address you used to sign up at UFT.org.
If you don't have a UFT.org profile, please sign up.
Forgot your password?