The Ponderosa Pacer Story
In 2002, Ponderosa Elementary opened under the principal Melynda Gissel. She told me that she would love a run/walk program! Opening a new school, I was a little overwhelmed so I went to an expert PE teacher Dannette Kroll who already had a successful program of her own. Following her lead, my PE teacher partners Dawnetta Earnest, Linsi Jones and I created our version… Pacers! Pacers started in this grass field marked with 4 cones. The next year the PTA funded approximately ¼ mile asphalt track. A few years later, we had it widened due to the large amount of participants. Mrs. Crowley started her Pacer Coat collection in 2007. She is a big supporter of the program and proudly wears her coats around the school. She meets each student who achieves their 25 mile goal so they proudly can sign her coat. She is able to create a positive rapport with each Pacer student. Pacers are a model program because of the teachers. They motivate, track, do math lessons, set goals, encourage and even do Pacers themselves during their recess times.
Pacers are the culture of Ponderosa. This program runs two recesses every single day, September until May. Each recess the track is at capacity. Most of these Pacers kids started in strollers on this old track following the footsteps of their older brother or sister. Everyone gets involved from students, teachers, the principal, and even parent volunteers (one parent even plows the snow off the track!) The impact of the Pacers program is undeniable. Students don’t want to miss school. Ponderosa Elementary is a school that is held in high regards due to the Pacer’s program. In fact, students who move from Ponderosa are devastated. They don’t want to leave Pacers! Many parents and teachers have contacted me to start up programs in other schools so their child will continue their love of moving. Families adjust their vacation schedules and student’s appointments around Pacers. There have been in-district transfers to Ponderosa who cited the Pacers program as their reason for changing schools. The benefits experienced by the students as a result of Pacers are numerous. From the 2nd grade boy who lost 20 pounds, to the girl who has a new found confidence, or the child who learned to control his asthma, to the boy who considered himself a "nerd" and now an athlete, to the students who find friends and a way to not stand around and be bullied, and the student who needs energy released to be ready to learn in the classroom. Behavior problems are a minimum due to the large amount of students on the track with a goal in mind and something to do. Ponderosa continues the fight against obesity in a healthy, productive and fun way. Over 400,000 miles are on this old track. In 2015, 75% of our students were considered “at grade level or above” in their mile run.
Every day I hear a story about a student who is touched by this program from a teacher, my principal, a parent or by them! Every single one of these stories are the reasons I was inspired to find a way for a better track. A track that can continue to change lives during one recess.
I sat down and wrote a grant to Blue Cross of Idaho and waited. During this time, I received a “persuasive” letter from a 2nd grader in Mrs. Luther’s class asking to build a bigger track where there was a side for walkers and a side for runners. That way they wouldn’t bump into each other. I was very excited to let her know that we had just won a $10,000 grant in 2015! That sparked my desire to get Ponderosa a new track. I wrote more grants, reached out to our PTA, businesses and anyone that would listen. A donation from a teacher Mrs. Brekke, Mayor of Meridian, Tammy de Weerd (whose daughter was a top Pacer student many years ago), our PTA, a local pediatrician Dr. Joyce, Pacific Source Jacquelyn Hanners called me up to donate, Commerical Tire, Trinity Health, and the following families: Betzold (grandparents of the Hardy boys),the Brekke Family, the Graves family, the Seim Family, Mr. and Mrs. Crowley, a stranger (Kathy Shores) who read about our need in the Idaho Statesman, the Barron Family’s business At Home Medical Supplies. Mike Shuman from Shu’s Idaho Running Company came to see Pacers in action. He was amazed! He reached out to his community and came up with help from Saucony, Asics and Brooks companies. He was able to bring in over $8,000 from himself and others! $36,000 was raised in one year. That says a lot about the Ponderosa community!
Today, we celebrate this track for our former students who helped pave the way for our future. This track will continue to change lives!