COLUMBIA — Students and staff gathered Friday morning at Parkade Elementary to accept a $20,000 donation from the Anderson Family Charitable Foundation which will help with the continued funding of running clubs at three Columbia elementary schools.
The foundation was created in 2009 by John Anderson, an MU alum and television host on ESPN and NBC, and his wife, Tamara. This is the second year the foundation is donating money to the program.
Running clubs have been organized at Parkade, Blue Ridge and Russell Boulevard elementary schools and are voluntary school programs designed to give students another opportunity to exercise. Although they keep track of how many miles each student runs, there are no expectations for how many laps a student runs each day. Participants can walk, run or jog and everybody is welcome to join.
The programs began last year when assistant superintendent Peter Stiepleman approached Parkade physical education teacher Kelly Smothers about creating a club with a donation from Anderson's foundation.
The foundation focuses on elementary schools in Green Bay, Wisc. — Anderson's hometown — and Columbia, where Anderson attended the Missouri School of Journalism. Previous donations from the foundation have helped with food programs, paying for books and providing backpacks.
"We began the foundation with the idea of helping under-served kids in public elementary schools," Anderson said. "Anywhere we can find spots to help, we try to help."
Running clubs have a different focus — fun and shoes.
Smothers sponsors Parkade's club and tracks the miles participants have run. When they reach a certain amount, students are rewarded with a pair of brand new running shoes.
"Without John, many of these kids wouldn't have these experiences or opportunities," Smothers said. "For some kids, this is a dream come true."
The shoes are just part of where the donation goes. In addition to providing new shoes for the nearly 200 student runners, the funds also covers entry fees so the students can run in local races like the Mizzou Mile and pays for field trips to the MU Student Recreation Complex.
"My favorite part last year was going to see Mizzou," said fifth grader Elijah Peterson. "We got to see the old Farout field last year and I hope we get to see the new one this year."
The program makes kids excited to come to school, said Parkade principal Amy Watkins.
"It starts their day in a positive way, and helps them feel successful," she said.
Anderson said he believes physical activity should be a part of schooling and helps create well-rounded students. It also helps with discipline, attendance and paying attention in class.
"Healthy bodies equal healthy minds," Watkins said.
In addition to funding the running clubs at Parkade, Blue Ridge and Russell Boulevard elementary schools, and Stiepleman said the district is looking to start one at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary, and also provide support to Benton Elementary.
"We are really grateful for the incredible and generous support," said Stiepleman. "This money will help build the community."
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