POLAND — Whittier Middle School teacher Pete Webster’s subject is Spanish. Theresa Sampson teaches art.

But on Tuesday, they and all other middle school teachers were outside on the track and field, coaching.

“There you go! Take it from him!” Webster yelled as his students worked to control the soccer ball.

Meanwhile, Sampson’s students walked and jogged.

In 2012, the school of 230 students from Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls started an Everybody Runs program, in which every student in the spring and fall gets outside twice a week to walk or run.

The running program was tweaked last year. Students were divided into teams of five to 15 and every classroom teacher agreed to take on coaching.

The program could now be called Everybody Runs; Every Teacher Coaches.

The idea came from teacher Amy Hediger, who this year is serving as assistant superintendent.

Grouping students into teams with a teacher coach has improved the program, Principal Shawn Vincent said.

Before, “we found some kids think, ‘I’m too cool to run in front of my friends,’” he said. They had a choice to walk or run and some were satisfied to walk and talk.

It’s good they were getting some exercise, but the goal was to encourage a good workout.

“We wanted the program to have meaning,” Vincent said.

Instead of letting all of the students loose on the track, they were grouped with others of a similar athletic level, from fast runners to runners and walkers.

When it’s time to go outside, students meet their coach, who shares the day’s plan.

In addition to jogging and walking, “we’ve added a lot of games,” Vincent said. “A lot of kids weren’t driven by a track. The training coaches built in games, like Capture the Flag and others. Whatever motivates kids. Now we’re seeing the kids pushing themselves more. It’s been positive.”

Webster said his team typically runs 100 yards, then walks 100 yards, one day a week. On the second day, they play a game — football, Frisbee or soccer. On Tuesday, it was soccer.

In addition to each student having more choices, “each kid in that group is accountable to a teacher, Vincent said. “They’ve gotten to know that teacher well. It’s been great for the school and the program.”

“I’ve become a little faster, a little more fit” as compared to the start of school, said Joseph Levesque, 13, a member of Webster’s team.

Faith Cyr, 13, said the program is fun.

“I’d rather be outside,” she said.

Cyr, a soccer player, said she runs whenever she can.

Without teachers volunteering to coach, the improved program wouldn’t work, Vincent said.

Sampson said working with students on the track and field is good for the kids.

Until five years ago, “I never jogged a day in my life,” she said with a grin. “Now, we’re all running coaches.”

Part of the reason for starting the program for all students is that the school shares a physical education teacher with Elm Street Elementary School.

“We needed additional movement for these kids,” Vincent said. “They need to move.”

More frequent exercise helps students be more prepared to learn, he said.

“One of the kids was telling me, ‘It helps me with stress. Getting a chance to go run, I run that stress out of my body,'” he said. 

Gaeb Bouchard and Sam Stone, both 16 and high school juniors, were in the first class that was part of the program. The program prompted Bouchard to participate in the first Tri-Town Family 5K five years ago. That led him to take up cross country running in high school.

It’s prodded him to be more athletic, he said. 

Exposing students to running and games “can open up new horizons,” Stone said. “It can get people active.”

Go and do

What: Tri-Town Family 5K

When: 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 6

Where: Minot Consolidated School trail

Who: Residents of Minot, Mechanic Falls and Poland. 

Event is free, with music provided by Q 97.9; refreshments available

FMI: tritownfamily5k.weebly.com

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