Alice Poole, Acting Deputy Head and PE Subject Leader, explains how physical activity has brought the school community together during the covid crisis, boosting resilience and providing support through a shared active initiative planned by the PTA.
St. Mary’s had been using The Daily Mile™ for around four years. ‘The initiative was a real success: being outside is a great way to refocus the children and burn their energy for a long period of learning,’ explains Alice. ‘But we were short of space. We had eight classes, each with different playtimes, and two playgrounds.’
Alice ran a PE survey in school to find out what the children thought about school activities. ‘One question was about The Daily Mile™ and whether they liked doing it,’ she says. ‘85% of the children said they enjoyed taking part in the initiative, cementing our knowledge that there were huge physical and mental wellbeing benefits to making The Daily Mile™ more accessible at St. Mary’s. We wanted to invest more time and money into such a worthwhile activity.’
In response, work began on an all-weather running track in the school grounds in March 2020. ‘We wanted a much bigger, and better, space than our water-logged pitch, which was only usable for a month or so every year,’ says Alice. ‘Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and school was forced to close before the track was finished.’
Despite the setback, the children and staff at St. Mary’s, with support from the St Ralph Sherwin Multi Academy Trust, were committed to building the track to support The Daily Mile™ and other physical activity within the school. In the spring 2020 lockdown, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) organised a relay for the school children, families and staff. The aim was both to keep the children physically active during lockdown and provide a way to raise school funds.
‘Due to the success of The Daily Mile™ in school, the PTA knew the children would be keen to be involved in physical activity,’ Alice explains. ‘The plan was to ask the school community to take part in a collective marathon, starting and finishing at school. Each child was given a distance to run, beginning at their house and ending at the next participant’s home. It didn’t matter how long it took them, and whether they walked, jogged or ran: it was all about completing their part of the relay and working together’.
The initial target was to involve 42 families, each completing a kilometre of the marathon. Yet keen interest and real buzz around the event meant more than double the anticipated number of families took part. ‘The marathon became a real family occasion, with siblings and parents joining the route alongside the St. Mary’s children,’ says Alice. ‘It was great to see how the event had encouraged households to be physically active together and achieve a shared goal.’
‘The PTA planned a route from house to house, with the final leg of the marathon finishing in the school grounds, ending on the new running track,’ Alice adds. ‘Our headteacher, Fionuala Boucher, ran the last leg of the relay with the children, and many children turned up at school to take part in the last mile of the run or to cheer on their peers. The sense of connection and support was incredible.’
One of the St. Mary’s school staff, Teaching Assistant Anna Ashton, ran the whole 26-mile distance with the children. ‘Anna makes running a big part of our school life,’ says Alice. ‘She’s held a well-established cross country club at St. Mary’s for many years, welcoming children from different classes to attend running competitions at the weekend. The Daily Mile™ initiative has complemented that perfectly.’
Alice says that, naturally, the usual ways the school would raise funds couldn’t happen during the pandemic. ‘We’d typically host events such as fairs and galas,’ she says. ‘Instead, we asked the children to raise sponsorship for their The Daily Mile™ inspired marathon. They raised £3,000 for the school, far exceeding the initial £1,000 target.’
‘The commitment to both their stint of the marathon and raising funds for the school is truly testament to the resilience and determination of the children,’ adds Alice. ‘From our early years nursery to year 6 pupils, so many of the children got involved. It really shows what a big part The Daily Mile™, and physical activity, plays in our school.’
‘Now school is open and the track is complete, we’re running The Daily Mile™ together again and seeing so many children taking part,’ Alice concludes. ‘They’re not running to compete, just for enjoyment and the physical and mental benefits they gain from activity.’
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