Elementary students walk the globe

posted on Monday, July 23, 2012

One hundred yards—the length of one football field. It’s a distance easily visualized and, most would say, an easy walk.

Now, put one million 100-yard walks together and you’ve got an achievement worthy of the attention of the governor’s office! That’s exactly what happened May 11, 2012 when 750 elementary school students of Westridge Elementary in West Des Moines, along with special guests Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds walked the millionth football field together.

Westridge 6th grade students celebrate with Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds at a special ceremony marking the one-millionth football field walked.

How did they get to a million? It all started Oct. 3, 2011: the Healthiest State Initiative’s inaugural Start Somewhere Walk.

The sun was shining, students were smiling and there was a buzz in the air that October afternoon, recalls Nancy Foley, Extended Learning Program teacher. “The energy from the students and faculty after the 1-K walk was addictive,” she says. “I started thinking, ‘Why can’t we have this energy every day?’”

So Foley challenged her students to do just that. A Wellmark-funded bundle of pedometers and a few student-led classroom presentations later, the plan was in motion to walk one million football fields. That’s 56,818 miles, or more than two times around the globe!

The entire school got involved. The art department created a giant map to track the trek. Writing and history assignments included reports and poems about the countries visited. Math skills were tested as students added up their daily steps. “One of the coolest things about this is we have math, geography, art and language arts all involved in this activity,” says Foley.

Students show off the map used to track their trek.

Using a football field as the measurement tool made it easy for students in every grade to visualize the distance they were covering, and the map kept everyone up to date on the school’s progress. “I just loved that map,” she says. “It got people talking; I heard kids all day talk about where we were and how far we had to go.”

Week by week, the project gained momentum. Teachers began to notice a change. When students went out for recess more were walking, running or just plain moving to get their steps in for the day. Students noticed a change, too.

“I feel more awake and more focused in class,” says sixth-grader Taylor Gion.

Added student Alex Suh, “I think it gives us more energy.”

A special ceremony was held after the students, teachers and special guests recorded the final steps together on May 11.

Plans for this year’s October 3, 2012 Healthiest State Walk are already in place. Foley and the Westridge team plan to leave the next steps to the students of 2012-2013. Who knows, maybe they’ll walk to the moon!