West Middle students walk in school club for 'wellness'

The Baltimore Sun

On Tuesdays and Thursdays at West Middle School, the casual observer might notice a growing group of students lingering at the end of the day.

OK, not just lingering. Walking, with the purposeful stride of people on a mission.

They are part of the Westminster school's new walking and wellness club, otherwise known as the Blue Jay Walkers. Health teacher Christine Clarius started the club this year, wanting to "promote wellness throughout the student body and the staff" in different -- and fun -- ways, she said.

"I've just always been passionate about reaching kids and helping them to have a better body image," Clarius said.

Over the years, she said, she has observed a decreased level of activity among children. Video and computer games, along with other more sedentary pursuits, also have competed for their time, she added, things "that are preventing them from getting out and doing more outside."

The Blue Jay Walkers seek to get outside, and move, more often.

The club fits into a "schoolwide, countywide, statewide, national focus on fitness and wellness," said Tom Hill, principal at West Middle. "If [students] learn the lifetime wellness now, they're going to be more physically fit."

To that end, county elementary schools are preparing to enter their ninth year of Project ACES, or Active Children Excel in School, which strives to increase children's daily physical activity and thus improve their health.

Students will aim to engage in some form of activity -- including walking, dancing or playing -- at least an hour a day. Nearly 7,500 public and private school students in Carroll took on, and succeeded in, the challenge last year, according to the school system.

At West Middle, students have a fitness room equipped with cardiovascular machines, including ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes and running machines, Hill said. Another program in conjunction with the Baltimore Ravens, which begins next month, also will promote fitness outside of school, he said.

Teachers also are encouraged to join the effort, Hill said. "That way they're mirroring for the kids what we want to see the students doing."

Clarius is setting that example, with hopes of showing more and more students that, even if they aren't runners or otherwise athletic, they can walk -- and make better snack choices.

The walking club plans to spread its wellness message with the entire student body by launching a weekly trivia contest that involves health-related facts read during the school's morning announcements, Clarius said.

Her students were discussing how to execute their plans last week, after they had discarded flip-flops and pulled on walking shoes for their semiweekly jaunt.

"OK, you ready?" Clarius said. "Let's go."

Black pedometer in hand to track the progress, the teacher set out into the sunny afternoon and toward the building's front, occasionally directing the group as it went along.

As she contemplated ways to inform the student body of the benefits of walking, a couple of club members discovered an additional, albeit inadvertent, perk.

"What are you guys doing?" Clarius asked a few stragglers, who, at one point, were bent over something in the playing field behind the school.

"We found nickels," said Meaghan McGrath, 12, smiling as she and Ben Arbaugh, 11, held up the coins.

The students who have joined the club said they enjoy the exercise.

When Ben heard about the club during announcements, he said, "I thought it would [be] pretty cool."

After the first meeting, "I really liked it," he said, and decided to stick with it.

Seventh-grader Alex Kerr, 12, said she sometimes runs on a treadmill at home, but otherwise doesn't do sports. So she and a friend decided to participate in the walking club.

"I just wanted to be healthy and fit," Alex said.

For sixth-grader Hayley Stouffer, the club has even simpler appeal.

"It just gives me something to do at the end of the day," said Hayley, 10.

And more than basic physical fitness motivates the students' feet: Every step they take brings them closer to a goal of walking the state of Maryland -- or at least, the equivalent distance of the more than 260 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest part of the state -- as a team.

Clarius multiplies the distance they have walked, usually a mile, by the number of participants.

"Once we meet the goal of walking across Maryland," she said, "then we're going to walk across the United States."


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