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Hillcrest students in running for healthy lifestyle

The fifth-graders lined up anxiously along the starting line behind Hillcrest Elementary School and focused intently on the woman talking to them through a bullhorn.

Their Impatience with the commands for pre-race stretching had been apparent.

Their eagerness to start running the quarter-mile course around the baseball diamonds was obvious.

Sue Mason, the woman whose command to "Go!" was what the boys were so desperately waiting to hear, hopes that enthusiasm to run, or at least do something active, remains with her students for a lifetime.

A physical education teacher at the school on Frederick Road for more years than she wanted to count, Mason was the driving force behind Friday's second annual Pumpkin Run for students in grades one through five at the school.

"Pace, not race," she had urged the runners.

Students had been training for the Oct. 26 run since the first week of school.

"They were taught by pacing themselves in phys ed class," she said. "They run before recess every day. Some of them run around during recess."

During Friday's full day of running, the fourth- and fifth-graders ran four laps. Third-graders ran three and first- and second-graders ran two laps.

Top three finishers among the boys and the girls in each grade received pumpkins.

Mason also awarded a pumpkin to a student in each grade who may not have been the fastest or most athletic, but whose determination could not be ignored.

"We're trying to get all the kids to be healthy, especially with childhood obesity up," she said.

Some of the students sprinted across the finish line, then casually accepted the certificate an adult volunteer handed them for completing the course. They had to be directed to a table holding water in donated cups from McDonald's.

Others showed significantly less energy after completing their final laps.

"But that's okay," said Sally Nazelrod, coordinator of the county school system's Office of Physical Education. "Their heart rate could be racing like they were running."

Nazelrod said the key is for students to keep moving.

The county has been measuring students' physical conditioning through PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) Tests for approximately 10 years.

During the tests, students run a length of the gym after they hear a bleeping sound from a DVD the teacher uses to time the class.

"Then they wait for a bleep to run down to the other side," Nazelrod said.

She said the students learn how to pace themselves, thanks to the DVD directed rhythm of bleep-run-wait, bleep-run-wait.

"I think they (scores) have gotten better, because we are doing the test more. Everybody builds on previous success," Nazelrod said.

Students ages 10, 11 and 12 who can complete 40 trips are considered in the Healthy Fitness Zone. From age 13 on, the number increases by one for boys while it drops .3 a year for girls.

Mason proudly noted that 97 percent of her elementary school students at Hillcrest are in that zone.

The students' scores are sent home, Nazelrod said, and a parent can determine if their child should see a doctor to see if there is a problem with poor nutrition, something hereditary or just a lack of activity..

"There's lots of activities at different schools to promote healthy and fitness," Nazelrod said. "Hillcrest is one of them."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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