Running program at Hartwood Elementary gets students in shape

Students at Hartwood Acres Elementary School participate in a running club.
Students at Hartwood Acres Elementary School participate in a running club.
Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

It didn't take fancy footwork for Heather Starr Fiedler to get students at Hartwood Elementary School interested in running.

The parent of two and avid runner pitched the idea of an afterschool club to draw students into health and wellness without the rigidity of an organized team.

“So many children in that age group suffer from childhood obesity,” said Fiedler, an associate professor of multimedia at Point Park University.

“I have a saying of ‘no complaints without proposals,' so I wanted to see if we could do something to make sure they find ways to keep active.”

Rachel Fischbaugh, principal at the Fox Chapel Area elementary school, approved the idea and Fiedler created the Hartwood Running Club, which meets from 3 to 4 p.m. Thursdays at the school track.

She and other parents volunteer their time with the aim of improving not only students' strength and agility, but self-confidence.

“We're encouraging them to do whatever they can do,” she said. “If they run one minute this week and two next week, that's progress. We want them to have fun with it.”

There are long-term goals, too, she said.

Students will be encouraged to run a 5K together during the “Take a Step for Your Heroes” event on June 14 at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer.

First-grader Grace Kovach said teamwork is part of the draw.

“I really like it because I get to be active and run and play with my friends after school,” she said.

The fledgling program became a success in less time than it takes to run a 50-yard dash, Fischbaugh said. In the first few weeks, more than 90 students in kindergarten through fifth grades turned out.

“We did not expect that,” Fischbaugh said. “I actually anticipated a drop in attendance over time, but was pleasantly surprised that participation is consistent.”

Parents are showing their team spirit too, Fischbaugh said. Dozens help with activities every week while Fiedler runs through tips on stretching, proper shoes, running form, race terminology and preparing for a 5K.

Grace's mother, Amanda, said she supports the idea of instilling exercise into children's routines.

“They have a real sense of accomplishment after each session,” she said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces after they complete a lap around the track is the best part.”

In addition to making their way around the track, participants compete in an obstacle course and drills such as weaving around cones and jumping over foam pool noodles.

There are rewards, Fiedler said, in the form of plastic charms to hang from a necklace. Every lap around the track earns students a dot on their hand; four dots, or one mile, get them a plastic foot charm. Trophy charms are given for achieving personal goals, helping a teammate or answering a quiz question.

Fiedler said several students are named “Runner of the Week” and awarded certificates. “They are so excited about that,” she said.

Fischbaugh already has approved continuing the program in the fall. “My hope is that the club will potentially grow in size,” she said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or

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