The elimination of physical education in Payson elementary schools doesn't mean physical fitness has been left out of the curriculum in Wayne Gorry's Julia Randall Elementary fourth grade class.
Proof of the youngsters' commitment to fitness climaxed Nov. 22 during the running of the town-sponsored Turkey Trot 5K.
After more than 10 weeks of training under the tutelage of Gorry, 19 of the 21 students in his class participated in the 5K event. All 19 who entered, finished the run.
But completing the 3.1 mile course in the fastest time possible wasn't the only challenge the students faced.
In the weeks leading up to the annual event, the youngsters trained three times per week in timed mile and 20 minute runs. They also participated in speed walks, games and relays designed to pique their interest.
Most of the training sessions were held in Green Valley Park where the actual 5K was contested.
In addition to their school day training, the teacher set up schedules for the students' off-hours use.
"We asked them to try to participate in at least one run each weekend," Gorry said.
In the classroom, the youngsters' interest in the 5K turned to the academic. Gorry asked each to keep a journal in which they described the effects of the conditioning program. After each conditioning run, they were to graph times and distances. The students also had to check for progress and critically analyze outcomes. In reports, they relied upon the scientific process to gauge results and consequences.
Excerpts from some of the students' journals show a personal perspective of the experience:
Nov. 24 -- Anya Klausner wrote in her journal, "I really enjoyed the Turkey Trot! It felt real good to get out there. And I reached my goal and my goal was to get out there and have some fun and I did. I didn't think I would do so well, but I think that I did really good and I am just really proud of my whole class!"
Nov. 13 -- Rachel DiFelice wrote in her journal, "I am really excited for the Turkey Trot in nine days. I'm feeling really good about it and I also feel a lot stronger. I think it has helped by my training around the amphitheater and running the mile. The training has been really good."
Cierra Tidwell wrote on Sept. 19 -- "Today we ran around the playground. It made me very, very tired. It is very hard. My legs are very, very sore. I can't run or jog. I can get sore very easily. I don't like to run that much. If I did the Turkey Trot, I'd be very sore."
On Nov. 24, Tidwell wrote -- "The Turkey Trot finally came. It was so fun. My dad did it with me. I thought it was going to be hard but it was actually easy. My dad got first in his age group and I got second in my age group. When I got to the finish line, I felt so good. I'm going to do it next year and I'm planning to get first."
Classroom discussions helped integrate math, science and language arts that were intertwined in the studies.
Under the expert, but gentle guidance of Gorry, a 5K run quickly turned into the teaching moments every good teacher aspires for.
Although the program was demanding both academically and athletically, the students thrived in the regime.
"I think the kids loved it, they responded well," Gorry said.
As the date of the run grew closer, their interest heightened. "They were really excited the week of the event," Gorry said.
"Most of them had never competed in an athletic event like this."
At the finish line, the exhausted young runners were eager to reflect on their accomplishments.
"Every one of them came up and said what a great time they had, they loved it," Gorry said.
Competing in the 12-years-and-under age division, a trio of the students earned top-three finishes. Among the boys, Cypress Gorry took first and Luke Christenson was second. Ciara Tidwell was second in the girls' competition.
In reflecting on the actual run and the weeks of training, Gorry was most impressed by the respect the students showed for one another.
"They didn't criticize the kids that were slower than they, they just encouraged," he said. "The most important thing for them was to give their best effort; it wasn't about winning."
Integrating a 5K run into the school curriculum might be a tad unusual for most teachers. But for Gorry, the elimination of elementary PE classes this school year made the program a perfect fit.
"Since we don't have PE, we had to do something," he said. "I'm a huge believer in (physical fitness) and somehow we had to get it (PE) back in school."
Although the Turkey Trot is now history, Gorry doesn't believe the students' interest has waned.
"They are already asking when the next 5K is going to be," he said. "So, I guess we'll do another, probably in the spring."
Until then, he added, "We'll keep finding ways to make physical fitness a part of the curriculum."