Girls at Ray Miller Elementary School in Kirksville excitedly wait for Tuesday afternoons. Homeroom teachers release their students at 3:30 p.m. and the fun begins. The girls come running down the hallway looking for their instructors, Ellen Atwood, Erin Cicotte and Tara Dorenkamp to start their favorite activity, Happy Feet Running Club.
Happy Feet Running Club is a weekly after-school program that takes place at Ray Miller Elementary. Around 20 girls in third through fifth grade participate in the running club, which aims to raise health awareness and self-esteem through exercising and healthy eating. In the program, girls keep their own personal health journals as well as participate in different exercises and activities. In their journals, the girls log their exercising activities and read about healthy food facts.
Amanda Brown (’11), a former Truman track athlete, learned about the program from Carol Goodrow’s book, “Happy Feet Health Food: Your Child’s First Journal of Exercise and Healthy Eating,” and she wanted to bring it to the Kirksville community. Brown was never able to implement the program because she had track practice every day after school, so in the spring of 2011, Atwood stepped in to help get it started.
“Amanda wanted to bring this program here because she participated in varsity cross country and track, and running was a big part of her life,” Atwood said. “I think she wanted to share her life experience of running with younger girls.”
Liz Wilkinson (’13) and Katrina DeCosta (’13) originally helped Atwood (’14), and as older instructors have prepared to graduate, they have groomed younger students to take over the program. Dorenkamp and Cicotte learned from Atwood this past year and will continue the program again in the fall.
“The girls love Happy Feet. It gives them a break from their normal after-school routine,” Dorenkamp said. “They used to have Happy Feet on Mondays, and a third grader said ‘I hated Mondays until it was Happy Feet day!’”
Instructors start out each session by reviewing journals with the girls. Then they usually head outside to the bike path for a jog before starting an activity, such as soccer or relay races. Events conclude with the group discussing a health food fact for the day.
When the weather does not cooperate, both the instructors and “happy feeters” get creative with ways to exercise indoors. Activities have included splitting into teams and seeing which group can keep a balloon in the air the longest, or watching Disney musicals and doing different exercises every time a song plays.
Thanks to the idea of one student and the help of a few others, Happy Feet has paved the way towards a healthy future for the young girls who have participated in the program.