Rumford and Mexico elementary schools have instituted Team Long Run, a program to get students more active and linking it to learning and playing. Those involved in its establishment are, from left, John Beliveau and Matthew Kaubris of Friends of the River Valley, Rumford Elementary School Principal Jill Bartash, and Team Long Run developers Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen and Chuck Wilcoxen. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Rumford Elementary School teachers were introduced Wednesday to Sizzle & Pop, a program to get students in shape to learn.

Principal Jill Bartash said she observed that many students were sedentary and out of shape when they returned to school after being home during the pandemic. She said she and Kim Fuller at Meroby Elementary School in Mexico were looking for ways to get students more active.

Enter Team Long Run, a nonprofit organization that supports active play for children. Formed in 2017 by Chuck and Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen of Bridgton, it includes a series of free programs they developed and distributed to schools, community organizations and families.

“As we got to know the kids, families and schools, we realized that supporting early literacy was probably the single most important thing for a child’s academic future, so we began to discover ways to link running and active play with reading,” Harper-Wilcoxen said.

Sizzle & Pop features in-class brain breaks for students stand next to their desks and exercise with visuals from posters and cards.

“The goal this year is to incorporate recess walking, keep track of that and set goals as combined schools, ” Bartash said. In four to five years students from the two schools may be in a new building, if voters approve a proposal to build a new school, she said.


Team Long Run only works with Title I schools, which are based on the social-economic status of the community and where 50% of students have access free or reduced-priced lunches.

Sizzle & Pop is made possible through a $5,000 donation from Friends of the River Valley, which covers Team Long Run programs for six months, helping about 600 students at Rumford and Mexico elementary schools, and Chisholm Head Start.

The nonprofit organization focuses on providing community-based, tangible solutions to help improve nutrition, wellness and education for children and families of the River Valley.

“It seemed like it was a great fit for the Friends of the River Valley’s mission statement,” member John Beliveau said. “The idea was presented to the group’s board of directors, who gave unanimous support.”

Established this year, the organization has played a role in securing two meal delivery vans for Regional School Unit 10, donated $20,000 to the Rumford Public Library to fund children’s literacy and science, technology, engineering and math programs in the community. It’s also working to establish a food pantry and a child care center.

“The next step we’re going to try to do is help Hilary and Chuck find funding for the full year and probably for multiple years with other organizations that we know that support similar missions,” Believeau said.

“We will never ask a dime from any of our Head Start programs or elementary schools,” Harper-Wilcoxen said. “We have some generous donors, but it takes a lot.”

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