MARQUETTE - Students at Sandy Knoll Elementary School have walked to a lot of places: Lambeau Field, Joe Louis Arena, even the Statue of Liberty. But they've done it without ever leaving their school's playground.
It's all part of a new program called the Mileage Club, in which students walk around a track set up in the school's playground for 15 minutes twice a week. Ten laps around the track is equal to two miles.
The program was spearheaded by Sandy Knoll's physical education teacher, Erika Goudzwaard.
Fourth-graders Lauren Lahtinen and Greta Rickaur run around the Mileage Club track at Sandy Knoll Elementary. In total, the school’s students have run more than 1,700 miles since the program began 10 weeks ago. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
"It was a way to get kids active," she said. "To help them find something they're good at that they wouldn't know they're good at."
As the students complete laps around the track, they are given a popsicle stick. At the end of the fifteen minutes, the students line up to turn in their sticks and report how many laps they completed that day. Once they finish a total of ten laps, they receive a pendant, which they can hang on a necklace purchased for $1.
Money from the purchase of the necklaces goes toward buying more pendants, which have so far included little feet, turkeys and pumpkins.
The mileage is collectively recorded on a map hanging outside the school's gym, showcasing several "stops" the kids have walked to.
Starting at the school, students have walked enough miles to go to Lambeau Field, the Sears Tower; Ford Field; Joe Louis Arena; Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio; Pittsburgh; the Hershey Factory in Hershey, Pa.; and the Statue of Liberty.
Goudzwaard said the students have made a quick stop at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and are now moving on to a much anticipated stop at Disney World.
The Mileage Club is even stirring up a healthy competition between the grades, to see which grade can walk the most miles.
"They're excited about it," she said. "The third graders are leading with the first graders right behind them ... kindergarten is still trying to get the hang of it, with only being here one day a week, and their little legs."
After they complete a total of 10 miles, students' names are entered into a monthly drawing. Prizes have included a free day pass donated from the Marquette YMCA.
Goudzwaard said more than 80 percent of students at Sandy Knoll have earned their first pendant. Since the program's inception 10 weeks ago, the students have collectively walked more than 1,700 miles, though walking isn't the only way their allowed to travel.
"They can run or walk or jog, skip, hop, I don't care," Goudzwaard said.
For the kids, it doesn't seem to be exercise at all.
As they run around the miniature orange road cones that mark the corners of the track, they talk about what they ate for lunch, their homework, how many pendants they've earned, how many more they want to earn.
But it's what you don't hear that is more interesting. No complaints. No whines about a boring way to spend recess. Mostly, the students seem to want the bragging rights of owning the most pendants.
Karen McDonnell, a 49-year-old Marquette resident, is a parent volunteer involved with the club. She comes in to help hand out pendants and keep track of how many laps each student runs that day.
She said the pendants have become a favorite thing among Sandy Knoll students.
"They look at them all bug-eyed," she said. "They ask if they can just look at the new ones. Maybe can they touch them?"
Her son, Maverick Baldwin, is a first-grader at Sandy Knoll. McDonnell said the Mileage Club has become one of his favorite recess activities.
"My son is so proud," McDonnell said. "Everyday, he comes home and he pulls his necklace out of his backpack and he wears it at home."
But perhaps what sums up the overall feeling of students at Sandy Knoll the best is fourth-grader Luke Lahtinen's excitement at completing his 10 laps and earning a pendant one Thursday morning.
"I ran two miles," he yelled, throwing a fist in the air as he ran back inside his school.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.