BARSTOW • Lenwood Elementary School teacher Stephanie Griego started running with her students 12 years ago.
First, it was to help her 5th-graders prepare for the mile-run fitness exam required by the California Department of Education at the end of the year. But as her own two sons — 2nd and 4th graders — entered the school years later, she realized it was a needed extracurricular activity.
"There are a lot of kids who can't do sports because of money and we have so many athletic students at our school," Griego said. "I grew up in Barstow and I know what happens when a kid is not busy."
The Running Club, as it is known on campus, meets three days a week after school for an hour. The students pace the nearby desert field or the perimeter of the school with sprints, stair climbs and a variety of cardio exercises, and Griego runs along with them. About 50 students participate, although they're on break until the end of March due to winter weather.
"It really builds their confidence and seems to help them do better in school," Griego said.
Griego said she started running at age 16, a time in her life when she said things were difficult for her at home.
"I do believe running can change lives, as it did mine," Griego wrote in an email. "I joined the track team so I could be away from home as much as possible ... and it really turned my life in the right direction and led to many positive things."
Twenty-five years later, she said she still runs regularly, competing in three races a year.
"It keeps me in shape and it's very therapeutic," Griego said.
The running club idea has spread to other elementary campuses. Kindergarten teacher Heather Bremen at Skyline Elementary and 6th grade teacher Stacia Pace at Cameron Elementary both started competitive and non-competitive running clubs this year.
Pace said Cameron Elementary has had a running reward program for runners during recess for several years called the "Mileage Club," but the competitive track team is new.
"I think all of our kids need to be healthier. I see kids so busy indoors and playing video games — not out running like they should be," Pace said.
The teachers agree the sport is easier for students to begin because it doesn't require more than a decent pair of running shoes.
"Anybody and everybody can get out there and run," Pace said.
Although Pace's track team is only open to 5th and 6th graders, she said about 50 students participate.
"I just think it's great and the students have the opportunity to compete with one another," Pace said.
The groups from Lenwood Elementary and Cameron Elementary have competed in three races this school-year so far and plan to do two more, according to Griego.
"My little 2nd- and 3rd-graders are beating 5th- and 6th-graders because they're just so athletic," Griego said.
Bremen said she started the running club at Skyline because she wanted to show kids how fun running can be. At the beginning of the school year the club met in the mornings before school and she said about 10 parents and five teachers participated too.
"I don't see a lot of hugely competitive runners. But I see kids out there who just want to improve their health," Bremen said. "I'm kind of focusing on not being so competitive right now. I'm really trying to show them how fun it can be."
Both Bremen and Pace said this year is their trial year. Bremen said her students will definitely compete against the other schools next year. The groups will also compete in the Barstow Mud Run in March.
Contact Brooke Self at (760) 256-4123 or BSelf@DesertDispatch.com.