Illahee Elementary School on path to fitness

New paved walkway gets students moving toward healthier habits

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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Gone are the days of running on uneven and often muddy grass during PE class. Gone are the days of sitting and talking during recess.

The students at Illahee Elementary School now have their own paved fitness path to motivate the kids to get active — and stay safe while doing it.

The school celebrated on Tuesday its new pathway — made possible by the $40,000 fundraising campaign spearheaded by a handful of moms — with a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial lap around the one-fifth-mile loop.

The students, sporting matching Illahee Elementary T-shirts, gave high-fives to visiting elected officials and business sponsors before sprinting away on the path.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said 9-year-old Landon Stalkup, an Illahee fourth-grader. “I like to go out at recess and run around the path and talk with my friends.”

But the new pathway is just the beginning of an effort to transform the lives of Illahee students.

“We’re just ecstatic,” said Erin Lucich, Illahee principal. “This is part of a bigger dream we have to improve the holistic health of our kids.”

The school has formed a core team tasked with creating incentives for activity, such as a mileage club where kids get small tokens for reaching milestones or a marathon board that keeps track of how many miles kids have run or walked. A review committee is also developing a nutrition curriculum for the classroom and cooking classes for after school, Lucich said.

“We are committed to supporting kids to take charge of their health. … to choose health,” she said.

Last fall, only 27 percent of fifth-graders at the school met fitness standards in four testing areas: aerobic capacity, push-ups, curl-ups and flexibility. But those test scores aren’t unusual; they’ve become quite typical among elementary school kids, said Anne VanLaeken, a physical education teacher at Illahee.

VanLaeken has long dreamed of a fitness path at the school.

When the weather is nice, elementary PE classes will go outside if there’s enough space for a class and recess activities. The pathway, which loops around the school’s soccer field, gives the kids a designated place to run during class, at recess and before and after school hours, VanLaeken said.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “I love that the kids are using it on recess. They’re doing it on their own.”

The fitness path effort began about two years ago, said Brigitte Conrad, one of the parents who led the campaign. The team of moms went to Evergreen Public Schools for permission and obtained the proper permits. Then, they went to work on fundraising, she said.

The moms group and the parent-teacher association held events — such as a fun run that raised $13,000 — sold engraved bricks that are now laid at the path’s entry and approached businesses for sponsorships, Conrad said. Nautilus donated $10,000 toward the effort; PeaceHealth contributed $5,000 and Dutch Bros. Coffee added another $2,500.

The pathway was constructed this summer and was ready for the kids to use on their first day of school.

“I’m so grateful to live in a community that comes together,” Conrad said. “This is huge for our kids.”