RALEIGH — Jeff Kimbro, an assistant principal at Martin Middle School, keeps a tally on the whiteboard of his office that tracks how many students turn up each morning for the school’s walking program.
For sixth-graders, the numbers run as high as 151, and though there’s some drop-off in the numbers for seventh-graders and eighth-graders, the school still averages 70 participants each day.
Halfway down one column, Kimbro has made a notation: 29 degrees. On the corresponding morning, 71 seventh-graders still circled the track at 7 a.m. despite the freezing temperatures.
“Given the opportunity, kids will almost always take the active choice,” he said.
The school’s wellness committee introduced the walking program this year as a way to encourage students to develop healthy habits and give them another chance to exercise at school. Each grade is assigned one day each week when students can choose to walk or run the track before class, rather than gathering in the gym or cafeteria.
It’s an effort that earned the school a “Wellness Star” last week from Advocates for Health in Action, a nonprofit collaborative that works to improve health in Wake County. The new award recognizes schools for programs that encourage students to walk and bike to or at school.
The nonprofit also gives out Wake County’s only award for overall school health, the annual Brains and Bodies Award.
AHA last week awarded 10 schools Brains and Bodies Awards at gold, silver and bronze levels. Martin also took home a bronze award for its overall efforts, which include a teacher yoga program and plans for a school-wide 5K race next year. The school is the first middle school to win the award.
Sara Merz, director of AHA, said research shows physical activity and healthy foods can boost students’ academic performance and lessen discipline problems.
“It’s not just a health project,” she said. “This is about kids being healthy and happy.”
Merz said the awards also give schools a chance to check out what other schools are doing and find the wellness efforts that work for them.
Five other Wake schools won a Wellness award, including Hunter Elementary in Raleigh and Wake Forest Elementary.
At Hunter, the school has a walking club as well as before-school basketball and yoga sessions for students.
On the track, students pick up a rubberband with each lap they complete and earn prizes for them.
At last week’s award ceremony, physical education teacher Chad Oliver said the key to the school’s success has been keeping the programs simple, so that’s they’re both effective and sustainable.
At Wake Forest, where students have participated in International Walk to School Day for 15 years, the school also has introduced a walking club for students, staff and parents and the town continues to make infrastructure improvements that will allow more students to walk and bike to school
Alana Moore, a fifth-grader on the wellness committee at Underwood Elementary, said students are glad for more opportunities to stay active at school.
“I think we all feel that when we’re active it really gets our brains going,” she said.
Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah